Architects in Ho Chi Minh City were asked to design a university campus. The outcome is magnificent.

Here is Vietnam.

It occupies the easternmost coast of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia.


Image by Lưu Ly/Wikimedia Commons.

Here is Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon).

Located in southern Vietnam, it's the country's largest city, with a population of almost 8 million people.

And here's what Ho Chi Minh City looks like.

It's a big city with big buildings and lots of people, which makes for many a challenge.

Photo by Tartarin2009/Flickr.

"Cities, especially in thriving countries like Vietnam, are growing at such a speed that infrastructure is unable to keep pace," said the team at Vo Trong Nghia Architects in an interview with Dezeen Magazine. "Environmental stress is observable through frequent energy shortages, increased pollution, rising temperatures, and reduced greenery."

When the architects were asked to design a new urban university campus in Ho Chi Minh City, they had something radically non-urban in mind.

What they produced was a verdant design — grassy, leafy, nature-inspired. It's like a city within a city, intentionally overrun by vegetation.

Welcome to the jungle, kids. All images by Vo Trong Nghia Architects/FPT University.

The firm, which specializes in green architecture, is bringing their expertise to FPT University, a private university in Ho Chi Minh City, for the second time. Their first project is currently under construction in Hanoi.

They describe their approach as a blend of culture and sustainability:

"By experimenting with light, wind and water, and by using natural and local materials, Vo Trong Nghia Architects employ a contemporary design vocabulary to explore new ways to create green architecture for the 21st century, whilst maintaining the essence of Asian architectural expression."

Their design for the university stands out against Ho Chi Minh City's built-up urban sprawl.

They wanted a different kind of sprawl — a 242,000 square-foot site that explodes with plant life. The centerpiece is a unique building stretching over several city blocks, its staggered floors climbing higher in the corners, and framing a massive courtyard.

They don't just use greenery to adorn the structure. Their concept actually relies on it.

Balconies and rooftops will be lined with plants, giving the building the appearance of "an undulating forested mountain growing out of the city."

Trees will spring from the courtyard.

And gardens will be planted at every step and turn.

All of this, according to the architects, "will provide shade and improve air quality, reducing the campus' reliance on air conditioning." And to save water, ground level gardens will seep into circulation wells that feed plants throughout the building.

They want to give Ho Chi Minh City "a new icon for sustainability."

Rapid urbanization has turned Ho Chi Minh City into a heat island, which is when cities grow warmer than their rural surroundings because land, plants, and forests have been replaced by heat-trapping concrete, brick, steel, and asphalt.

Photo by Gareth Williams/Flickr.

Today, say the architects, only 0.25% of the Ho Chi Minh City is covered with plant life. They think that while urbanization may be inevitable, turning our cities into ovens doesn't have to be.

So they get especially excited about designing educational facilities. To them, it's a chance to "aid the recovery of greenery that once flourished" and "foster a new generation of thinkers."

And if more students, like the future enrollees of FPT University's new campus, can be exposed to and learn to truly appreciate the astonishing form and function of nature, then there is, indeed, hope for the future of our cities — and our planet.

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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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