whale design lab has introduced ‘mài’, an experimental residential project in vietnam, bringing aesthetic remembrance of modernist architecture into the interior design of a contemporary apartment. influenced by the owner’s interest in modernist architecture, and its contextual transition from western discourse to vietnamese tropical living environment and material vernacular, the architects aimed to explore how such an adaptation can be applied to today’s apartment format. 

mai apartment 1

all images by trieu chien 



the whole design for ‘mài’ by whale design lab, reminisces about architect louis kahn’s aesthetics, in terms of the geometry, as well as the material sensation of terrazzo that was prevalent in saigon during the 1950s and 60s. since modernist architecture revolutionized the structural discipline for functionality and spared the aesthetic value on the regulated façade, at first, a kahn aesthetic recreation seemed impossible within a dull four-bedroom condo apartment.

mai apartment 2



unable to comply with the forced repetitive principle of today’s apartment buildings, mài tries within the confines of the interior, to reallocate the living space using alternative forms. the design excludes decorative details in order to emphasize the geometric patterns, such as the large round hole, curved corners, curved arch room partitions, or flattened light lines into the same plane with the wall.

mai apartment 3



all spatial elements attempt to create a discipline of geometric shapes throughout the apartment. at the same time, the playful order of these shapes inclines to slip away from the precise point – line – plane modernist approach. in addition, mài uses terrazzo as the main material language, recalling the feeling of cool and smooth flatness without gaskets. instead of gravel, pebble, or debris like the 1950s and 60s, the terrazzo section extending from the kitchen to the end of the stairs, uses large white marble pieces, beveled corners, carefully arranged as an abstract collage.

mai apartment 4



nearly 3 years were spent on the interior finishing, with the project leading the entire design and construction team through a meticulous honing process. in the physical aspect of the construction method, ‘mài’ -which means to hone/to polish- is how the material beauty is revealed after rubbing/shining, just like lacquer. the mài apartment hides inside its contemporary atmosphere a subtle nostalgia of saigon modernist architecture, taking the residents back, more than half a century ago.

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project info:


name: ‘mài’ apartment
architecture office: whale design lab
location: vietnam
200 m²


designboom has received this project from our ‘DIY submissions‘ feature, where we welcome our readers to submit their own work for publication. see more project submissions from our readers here.


edited by: myrto katsikopoulou | designboom