The vibrancy and liveliness of Ben Thanh Market and its surrounding streets are at the heart of Ho Chi Minh City.
It's a centre of commerce and transportation with public spaces, tourism, light industry, and housing for the working class through to the wealthy.
This urban street life and symbol of the city was the focus of a project being undertaken by Melbourne RMIT University students as part of the Master of Urban Design program.
Program Director Gretchen Wilkins recently travelled with the group of ten students to Vietnam for a two-week workshop based at RMIT Vietnam's Pham Ngoc Thach campus.
In collaboration with Hoanh Tran and Archie Pizzini from local architectural design office HTA+pizzini, the students gained an understanding of the underlying systems embedded in the rapidly developing urban life of Ho Chi Minh City and then identified and analysed architectural and urban design intervention proposals.
Mr Pizzini, Principal of HTA+pizzini said the intense use of public space in and around the Ben Thanh Market area incorporated micro-businesses plus improvised individual solutions to meet daily needs.
"It has generated a very specific urban fabric which is in contrast to the globalised model coming into the city as a result of new development," Mr Pizzini said.
"The web of informal systems linking the city's thousands of micro-endeavours and the individual lives built upon them make places like Ho Chi Minh City fundamentally different from the regulated cities in Australia, the United States, Canada and Europe.
"These systems have a lot to teach us about other ways to build sustainably and humanely in the rest of the world and it will involve considering a new type of design which incorporates the current vibrant social economic structures with the pressures of globalised development."
Left to right: RMIT Melbourne students Jayme Collins, Fiona Robertson, Raphael Freedman and Tino Chino at RMIT Vietnam Pham Ngoc Thac campus.
As part of the workshop, Mr Pizzini and Mr Tran worked with Ms Wilkins and associate lecturer John Doyle to guide the students through design decisions as well as providing insights into daily life across the city.
Student Raph Freedman said the group immersed themselves in the area by exploring the streets by foot, speaking with locals as well as taking photographs and capturing the city's change over the course of a day.
"We used our findings to work on drawings and diagrams as part of a design proposal which will be presented to a panel of critics for assessment in Melbourne," he said.
A challenging but rewarding experience, Mr Freedman said the workshop was an incredible opportunity to study a city and culture in such a contrast to Melbourne.
"It has been so interesting to come up with a design proposal for an environment completely different to what we've experienced to date," he said.
"Ho Chi Minh City is a beautiful and vibrant city with such welcoming people and it has been an absolute pleasure to spend several weeks in Vietnam on this project."
Before the group returned to Melbourne, the students reviewed their findings with local architectural and design practitioners.
They will continue to develop their proposals in Melbourne, and exhibit the final projects at the annual Architecture and Urban Design student show at the end of the year.
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