Urban Paradise

With a thriving, self-sustaining ecosystem complete with an aquaponic garden, the tranquil Koi Cafe in Hanoi, Vietnam, designed by Farming Architects, is an oasis that offers its guests welcomed respite from the cacophony of urban life.

Text: Alifiya Mehamdabadwala
Photographs: Nguyen Thai Thach, CourtesY Farming Architects


In their small way, Vietnamese architect An Viet Dung and his team at Farming Architects have, through their work, set an example for all to follow. The team of young architects identify themselves as farmers and strive to create environmentally sustainable living spaces, which one would agree are the need of the hour. “We not only cultivate green ideas but also treat each project in isolation and execute it with utmost care. This journey has helped us to deeply analyze and understand many things — nature, geography, people, climate…” explains An Viet Dung.

Their most recent project, Koi Cafe at Hanoi in Vietnam, was executed based on the principle of sustainable living with a design centred around an aquaponics system. For the uninitiated, this method combines conventional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as fish or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment.

When the client approached the firm to design the cafe, which was situated in an old three-storey house with a front yard, he wanted the space to have a strong connect with nature. “The owner wanted Koi Cafe to not just be a place of business but also an emotional space. He thinks that modern life is slowly stealing one’s love for nature,” says the architect. That was not all. The client also put forth a rather unusual wish — he wanted the architect to create a habitat for the koi fish as he greatly admired this colourful, pretty and low maintenance species. Another challenge came in the form of the structure — as it was a rental space, the homeowners did not want any changes to be made to the building and the layout. Any modifications that were carried out needed to be easy to dismantle once the rental period ran out.

As one enters the cafe, one spots the fish pond on the right surrounded by a stone pathway and a cosy cafe setting at the front that has been created using old
oak pallets.

The architects therefore decided to transform the space by adding design elements that were both environmentally friendly and efficient. An Viet Dung chose to create a smashing impression right at the outset, the result of which is the captivating facade. Made up of red Yin-Yang tiles — sourced from the pottery village of Bat Trang — and supported by a steel frame, the facade is faintly reminiscent of fish scales and offers just a tiny glimpse of the interiors, piquing one’s curiosity.

A series of steps lead to a peaceful semi-enclosed space with a small, self-contained ecosystem comprising an indoor waterfall and an aquaponic vegetable garden. On the ground floor, you’ll find a pond filled with colourful koi and surrounded by a stone walkway which would lead you to a seating area next to it. The level above includes an indoor waterfall that flows down into the pond, a reference to an old Chinese legend, according to which if a carp could leap over a waterfall called the Dragon Gate on the Yellow River in Hunan, it would be transformed into a dragon and fly away. This, however, isn’t just decorative and symbolic. It also helps oxygenate the water for the fish. The rooftop garden and the pond function as a single ecosystem. Excrement produced by the koi provides nutrition for the plants in the garden on the second floor, which in turn help purify the water that then flows back into the aquarium. Produce grown here is used in the dishes served at the cafe.

The scalloped facade of Koi Cafe has been achieved by laying red Bat Trang tiles on its surface. It alludes to the koi fish pond that lies indoors.

Staying true to the architects’ eco-friendly design ethos, all the surfaces — from the ceiling to the furniture — have been created using discarded oak pallets that have been spruced up and varnished. The result is a stunning and environmentally-conscious cafe where one is ensconced in tranquillity. Not only did the team successfully conquer the client’s brief but also bagged the third prize under the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction category at the Baku International Architecture Awards 2017 for the project. With such a unique and inspiring approach to design, Farming Architects have a promising future.

CONCEPT: To design a cafe with a koi aquarium that would be a peaceful green oasis amidst the harsh city life.

Flooring Oak pallets, stone
Ceiling Oak Pallets
Walls Bat Trang tiles

Koi Cafe
Location Hanoi, Vietnam
Area 947 sq ft
Principal architect An Viet Dung
Design team An Thanh Nhan, Pham Ngoc Linh

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