KAZE on Quality

Real Estate - Saigon/HCMC: April 29, 2016

Fong-Chan was born in Denmark, a country world famous for its attention to design detail in architecture and furniture design.

Moving to Vietnam 14 years ago was an eye opener for her. She quickly found that the country’s perception of quality design was very much different from her own.

Six years ago she founded KAZE, which means wind in Japanese. The interior design firm’s mission is to push for quality in function, design and purpose, something that has not been paid much attention to in Vietnam. We sat down with Fong-Chan to discuss KAZE’s take on quality.

“There is no building that has intelligent design in this city.” Fong-Chan lets me quote her on that. She means that no building here has paid much attention to sustainable practices or invested in consultants with sufficient knowledge of the environment they are building in; everything has been built in a mad rush to cut costs for as fast a return as possible; and developers have chickened out of paying extra as soon as the price tag on sustainable, quality design reared its head.

The Perception of Quality

Real wood, real stone and not “Made in China” - or what the locals jokingly say, “made in District 5”. This is what most Vietnamese - and interestingly enough, many other nationalities ncluding Americans - will answer when asked what a quality home consists of.

You can control the quality of hardwood flooring in a home, but not so much for one thousand apartments. It’s the craftsmanship that matters. It’s one thing to have a piece of wood, another matter entirely to shape this wood into a quality product, such as refined, affordable and sturdy flooring.

“There is no building that has intelligent design in this city.”

Many property developers and investors have yet to realise that there is a process in-between the raw material and the result. You may have a house with stone fixtures and marble columns, but where are you going to sit, sleep, how do you move through the space, how is the space moving you? Fong-Chan has been focusing on these questions ever since finishing her Masters in Architecture.

The Challenge of Quality

Quality, according to Fong-Chan, consists first of great references and understanding the history of “how things originate”. Terms must be defined when talking about quality.

Quality is when we learn from our experience and make an effort to develop a design with all necessary details. We incorporate our understanding of the natural laws of gravity, function, existing permissions, and through that develop a shape, space, chair, house, building or tower that relates itself to the surroundings and its end user, the Human.

At one point during our talk, Fong-Chan pointed behind me at a poster: A Century of Danish Chairs. “That’s quality.” We got up and scanned the 105 chairs in the poster. Fong-Chan would point out a chair and explain why it had been so revolutionary at the time. All these chairs were designed and built for the human body - with special attention to the chair’s proportions. Quality is something made with purpose - function and form combined to give us a human experience. Not just something that looks pretty.

A State of Preservation

Saigon and Hanoi are European cities - and so are unique in Southeast Asia. They have what other cities in the region do not: a city centre. In European tradition, everything is built around the church and from that you would have the important boulevards and roads that connect the urban infrastructure. The city develops through trade and if possible, a trade port is built.

“Saigon and Hanoi have what other cities in the region don’t: a city center.”

Singapore had this, but only a few of the old buildings remain - the vast majority had been demolished in favor of contemporary high-rises and city blocks. This is exactly what is happening in Saigon today, and we are looking on sadly as the city’s heritage is being demolished in front of our eyes in the name of “development”.

A Shift in Idea

A shift in the idea of quality is taking place, from superficial and cost-saving practices, to the world of right proportions, practical function, intelligent design and sustainable material. Let’s hope Ho Chi Minh City learns from its neighbors (and itself) and begins to understand that cutting corners will never work in the long term.