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Our Desire is Not to Escape Culture but Enhance It

Culture influences everything that we do. We are born into a place in the world that has a unique culture. Even if we chose another kind of life than our parents, if we move to a different city or country, we bring with us our beginnings. 

Based in Hồ Chí Minh City, YC Interior Design’s motto is Your Choice (Sự lựa chọn của bạn), Your Concept (Ý tưởng cho bạn). At YC, we respect the culture, environment, and regional nuances. Our goal is to create engaging, interactive experiences for customers with each space having a story about nature, people and local culture. Our designs are modern but stand firm on regional and national identity. In everything that we create, we must consider the practical functions of the space for people and culture to benefit. 

Influenced by Many Cultures

Vietnam has a long history spotted with foreign occupation and political unrest. Pre-historic Vietnam was home to some of the world’s earliest civilisations and societies. According to mythology, the first ruler of Vietnam (Việt Nam) was Kinh Dương Vương, who founded the nation in 2879 BC and established the Hồng Bàng dynasty that ruled until 258 BC. China then ruled the land as the vassal state. There had been many ups and downs in the ancient Việt history until Lý Công Uẩn moved the capital to Thăng Long (nowadays known as Hà Nội) in 1010, the beginning of the well-known Thăng Long culture. From here until 30 April 1975, there have been invasions from China, France and America. Despite the foreign occupiers, the Vietnamese people and culture is strong and withstands the test of time. 

Light in Vietnam

A misty landscape of Sapa, Vietnam.
A misty landscape of Sapa, Vietnam. Photographed by Louis Hoang

As civilisations evolved, the people learned to control fire by making lamps. The invention made fire portable and extended its use beyond simply warmth and cooking. Archaeologists have discovered many lamps in northern Vietnam with some dating back to ancient times. In a 2018 exhibition, the oldest lamp made from terracotta dated back to the 5th century bc belonging to the sophisticated Dong Son who inhabited the banks of the Red River. 

“The light in Vietnam is heavily influenced by the land and the culture.”

Located in the tropics, there is an abundance of sun and rain in Vietnam. As one of the countries in the world with the richest biodiversity, there are bountiful forests, streams, lagoons and a unique 3260km S-shape coastline. Light effects vary significantly due to the topographical features. The dense system of rivers and the sea generate brilliant reflections and glistening patterns. The forests absorb the light and display lush emerald and deep brown hues. The location near the equator provides more natural light. There is a folktale in Vietnam, that ‘the sun gets up early in May and sleeps late in October.’ 

President Suite Silk Path Grand Resort & Spa Sapa, Vietnam
President Suite Silk Path Grand Resort & Spa Sapa, Vietnam

There are 54 ethnic groups with many different traditional costumes, stories and folklore. In the past, civilians’ clothes were simple and typically brown or black with colourful costumes reserved for festivals. However, the royal families wore sophisticated and luxurious clothes with bold, bright colours as a regular occurrence. Notably, the kings wore golden coloured coats to symbolise power and nobility. The national costume, the Áo dài emerged in the mid-18th century which was the modernised version of the five-piece gown (Áo ngũ thân) in the past. 

Hoi An is known for its exquisite silk lanterns. They emit a light softened by the silk with the glare removed. Legend has it that lanterns were introduced by the Chinese who came to Vietnam as immigrants and hung lanterns as a reminder of their home country. But, over centuries, Hoi An locals have developed original Vietnamese lantern designs like pumpkin, garlic, and papaya in a diverse spectrum of colours with their own traditional Vietnamese meaning: yellow for wealth and royalty; red for happiness and luck; blue for hope, peace and calmness; green for fertility, growth and freshness. 

YC works with light to overlay spirit and evoke emotion in our creations. Light has great power and can cast a spell over you. The built structure can be magnificent and serves the needs of those who use it. We can take a simple example of a wall. The purpose of a wall is to protect the occupants from the outside, we may add tiles, wood or metal, but still, the surface needs light to be seen. When you add the right light, you can also make the inhabitant feel much more about the wall, making it more than just functional. At YC, we also use light to pay respect to the environment and heritage of the area.

How We Layer Light Into a Space

With any construction, we must consider the environment first. Then we must understand the culture. After a thorough investigation of these two elements, we must understand how people will use the building and make their lives better.

It may seem strange that the building use is the third priority, but the clients who come to YC regard us for our luxurious design style, bold nature and indigenous culture.

“The environment and the culture speak to us without words…”

…but our clients can tell us many things. It is important that we all share and open our hearts to truly understand the wants and needs.

After designing the structure and taking into account daylight and night’s impact on the space, we focus within. We add the large pieces into the space such as a wall covering, a cupboard, a table, a tub. It is like a jigsaw puzzle to make the creation. Then we add ‘light’ as this is one of the most important aspects as it is the ultimate determinant of the soul of a space.

Building an Artifact

When we create, we are not just looking for a benefit for today but for years to come. We want to be like the Dong Son lamp that exists for more than 2520 years.

Cham Charm Restaurant
AA Corporation, 2008

Floodlit entrance to Cham Charm featuring traditional Champa carving
Floodlit entrance to Cham Charm featuring traditional Champa carving

Cham Charm is a five-star restaurant located in Phú Mỹ Hưng, Quận 7 which is a planned neighbourhood in southern Hồ Chí Minh City. The development built on previous wetlands pays respect to the river and canals that influence the river culture of the area. For centuries, Sài Gòn river has played a vital role in the city as the main water source and facilitated business trade. 

The clients wanted us to provide a restaurant with a classic design that took advantage of the sunset over Thầy Tiêu canal and Half Moon lake. During the design phase, Mr Hoàng Khải (aka Khaisilk – the owner) spent hours observing sunsets to determine where its last rays of light can be caught. After many thorough discussions and brainstormings, the restaurant was decided to be in ancient Chăm style. All the walls are meticulously sculptured, and all the furniture is carefully placed, giving you the feeling that this place is prepared to serve you well. 

Historically, the ancient Chăms (người Chăm) were living in the south central coast of Vietnam with a vibrant culture, including a maritime focus. For many years, they had used the rivers and the coastline here to trade with local and foreign principalities. This trade and communication resulted in ecological, social, and historical influences.

The locally based, ASA Studios, ensured that the lighting on the exterior of the building brings warmth to the gardens once the sun has set. The well-lit entrance highlights the carved walls with pictorials from days gone by. The light also welcomes the guest to an extraordinary dining experience. When the guest enters the building, they are greeted by soft light that illuminates the carefully chosen artifacts representing the Chăm culture. The hanging lanterns are reminiscent of the lanterns hanging from the boats as they traverse the waterways.

Le Meridien Thimphu
AA Corporation, 2013

Nestled in the eastern Himalayan range, Bhutan (Druk Yul or Land of Thunder Dragon) is considered “the happiest countries in the world.” Thimphu is the kingdom’s capital and sprawls down steep slopes with many gradients greater than 30%. It is the country’s most modern city, yet it has retained the unique character of a Bhutanese town.

Between the only international airport, Paro, and Thimphu, there are many sacred sites. This includes the iconic Taktsang Palphug (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery that clings to cliffs above the valley. Thimphu is a culturally rich city with a long tradition of literature written in the Yo Jig script. Much of the scholastic literature revolves around the Buddhist monasteries and is preserved in the National Museum. 

Although the rooms are a modern standard, the Le Meridien Thimphu pays homage to the strong Buddhist heritage with architecture reminiscent of the iconic monasteries. Most notable is the Buddhist mani prayer inscribed on the ceiling of the carriage porch. The prayer looks like the prayer flags fluttering in the ever-present wind in the Land of the Thunder Dragon. The undulating ceiling is gently lit to pay respect. Moving into the sculpted lobby once again there are faint echoes of Bhutanese temples with large wooden carved doors. These elements come together to adapt culture to contemporary. 

Silk Path Grand Resort & Spa
YC Interior Design, 2017

Silk Path Grand Resort & Spa is a Gold Award-Winning Hotel in the mountain town of Sapa in Lào Cai Province. The Hoàng Liên Sơn range of mountains includes the country’s highest peak, Fansipan. The whole area is blessed with awe-inspiring natural beauty with towering peaks, steep rice terraces and picturesque villages. The mountains are home to distinct ethnic minorities – the H’Mong, Dao, Tày, Giay and Xa Phở.

The design has cleverly incorporated natural and cultural values into the hotel space. Natural materials such as stone, fabric, mountains… all are calculated using harmony from the main lobby space to the rooms. The images of indigenous culture are also refined to appear as a hidden smile of the Dao and H’Mong people. Accompanying the materials, there are typical colours of the Dao (red) and the H’Mong (blue). The light on the exterior serves as a beacon for the area as it dances off the white interior. Inside you will find lighting inviting like the warm local culture and evoke emotions and the spirit of the natural world outside.

These are only a few examples of how we pay homage to the environment and culture. The lighting adds a layer of drama and intent that speaks of beauty and the culture that my company YC and I have been tasked to respect and continue into the future.