Creatives have a place to collaborate at WORK Saigon, the latest co-working space to open in the city. By Ruben Luong. Photos by Tuan Le.
Deciding on the name for their new co-working space in Ho Chi Minh City, expats Tuan Le, 28, and Laure Chevallier, 23, considered something along the lines of a campfire.
“Everyone comes together and gathers around the fire to share stories and ideas,” Le says. “We like that kind of environment.”
Their initial concept came to fruition last December with WORK Saigon, their café-cum-creativity school where innovative folk can hang out, dine, or rent out a stylish upstairs space for upcoming events and design projects.
Le, born in Da Nang but raised in Los Angeles, and Chevallier, from France, came to Saigon after working two years in Dubai together at TBWARAAD, a global ad agency. Disaffected with life in Dubai, the couple saw more creative potential in Vietnam.
“You feel this buzz abroad,” Le says. “We read about Marou chocolate, District Eight Design, Lam Boutique, Nosbyn, an online fashion store. And when you arrive here, there is much more. You get a sense that everyone’s doing this cool stuff. You join in and be part of the group.”
Catching onto this trend, WORK Saigon follows similar ambitions of two growing co-working spaces in the country: Saigon Hub, which opened downtown last year, and Hub.IT, which launched in Hanoi in November. Both offer communal spaces with solo and team workstations.
But whereas Saigon Hub and Hub.IT are known to accommodate the button-up culture of tech startups, WORK Saigon adds some pizazz — there’s even a pool next to its café — and focuses on young artists, fashion designers, advertisers and architects.
A number of them are taking advantage of WORK Saigon’s space, tucked in an alley on Dien Bien Phu behind indie outfitter Blackmarket No. 3. Four chic rooms, furnished in raw materials and custom decor from woodshops in District 2 and fabric vendors in Cho Lon, are creative pads for cool consortiums.
WORK Saigon transformed into a pop-up gallery for its first event organised through Behance.net, an online platform for creative professionals. The event, a review of works from shortlisted local artists, drew 120 guests, and was hosted by Thanh Tung Le, a popular visual artist known by the alias, Crazy Monkey.
Several weeks after WORK Saigon opened, Gene Kogan, a New York-based programmer and digital artist travelling around Southeast Asia, also led a workshop there to discuss interactive art.
More recently, Le and Chevallier welcomed the inaugural DAY-E, Digital Agency Year-End Party. Conceived by three local digital professionals, it allowed digital buffs in the area to network at a rocking poolside electronic dance party.
“We meet a lot of interesting people,” Le says. “We see them do their work and see them at play and see what they do. Everyone has something to contribute.“
It is a progressive environment, with a few unique hands here and there to help run the clockwork of creativity. The Green Youth Collective, a volunteer organisation focused on empowering poor youth through urban horticulture projects, grew an organic garden outside the café, adding a distinctly cozy element to WORK Saigon.
“It’s better than my room,” says Daniel Park, a Korean freelance videographer renting out WORK Saigon’s space to work on news video packages and marketing projects that sell Korean cosmetics. “It doesn’t look like an office. It looks, just, fashionable.”
Park is the third individual to rent there monthly (VND 2,000,000) for unlimited access to a spacious meeting room, library, and two workrooms from 10am-9pm. Each resident is given a personal locker tagged with a personalised polaroid. It currently accommodates up to five residents.
A small member roster is what further separates it from Saigon Hub, which has 60 members, and Hub.IT, which intends to attract large networks of start-ups and techs. WORK Saigon wants to maintain a strong rapport with its residents, and is experimenting with ideas.
Those who don’t rent can enroll in specialised programs led by a line-up of professionals. This month, WORK Saigon will begin recruitment for two skill-sharing courses in advertising and photography, with lessons in concept, copy, art, and more with 20 percent off tuition. Classes, some in Vietnamese and some in English, feature creative directors and department heads from major companies like Ogilvy and Lowe.
But whether a resident or course participant, WORK Saigon asserts it isn’t exclusive. Members of the public community are encouraged to stop by the café and kitchen space, soon to serve savoury waffles, homemade paté and pesto, and other specialty dishes with a range of coffee from Da Lat and canisters of Kusmi tea from France.
It’s a win-win opportunity to meet other interesting voices engaged in the designer landscape of the city. Le and Chevallier were thrilled when a man from Google and his friend stopped by for coffee last month after hearing about WORK Saigon.
“It’s nice to see how people start talking to each other without knowing each other here,” Chevallier says. “We can just sit in a table and exchange business cards.”