Humans of enCity – Ngoc Mai

Ngoc Mai is an Associate at enCity, specialising in architecture and urban planning. Born and raised in Hanoi, she has worked at enCity since 2018 and participates in concept design for many projects with a variety of nature and scale.

enCity: Tell us about your background

Ngoc Mai: I’m an architect and urban designer. I’ve been in the field of urban design since September 2018, when I joined enCity. It’s been more than 2 years now. Before joining enCity I was a practical architect, I’d done some work in multi-scale projects from design to construction stage. After joining enCity, I have worked mostly on urban design and planning ideas. 

enCity: Where are you from originally, and where have you lived?

Ngoc Mai: I’m Vietnamese, from Hanoi. I spent two years away for a Masters course in Ghent, Belgium, and Turin, Italy, and then I came back to Vietnam after graduation.

enCity: Did living overseas inform your ideas about cities, or architecture? 

Ngoc Mai: It was a great experience being away, being in Europe for two years, because I’ve learned a lot, not just about my major but about how they live in other parts of the world. Everything is different, so I carry that part of my life to this very moment and I think it was a good experience. 

Ngoc Mai: I did learn a lot about urban design details of those cities. For example, people cycle a lot in Ghent in particular, but they don’t in Italy. I remember the details of the streets where I can freely ride to school and the supermarket, and they are very different to the city where I have to ride the bus for just a simple trip to the market. I remember those small things, and I try to reimagine them when I design. It helps me to form ideas.

enCity: You trained as an architect, so is that your role at enCity? 

Ngoc Mai: My role is architecture, but it is also broader. I work as an architect and urban designer, so I work at both a larger scale, outside the construction boundary, and inside for things like setback and façade controls. So it’s a mixture of the two roles. I quite like it, partly for the variety of projects and scales, but also that I can put my focus on things that I haven’t before, for example a larger scale than just the footprint, or a region, or a community. So I get to understand how they work together and separately and how to link them together. 

enCity: Why did you choose to join enCity, what attracted you about the company or the job?

Ngoc Mai: Well, I think we all know that Dzung is a very persuasive and inspiring planner, and it was the interview that convinced me. I didn’t mean to go to the interview, because I had a full time job in an architecture firm, but I think that particular interview changed me a lot. Dzung and Trang were very impressive and the subject of urban design and planning suddenly became more interesting for me. So I thought, ‘Let’s give it a try’…and it’s been two years. 

enCity: Over the past two years, which project stands out for you? 

Ngoc Mai: I guess it is the very first project I worked on in enCity, which is Hoi An Waterfront Community project. I had the first presentation with the client two months after joining enCity, so everything changed a lot in just 2 months. I was used to the scale of half a metre and a few hundred square metres, but then suddenly had a 32-hectare scale project. I had to get used to everything from the beginning – how to make a map, how to draw a suitable section for that project. I remember practicing a lot for that presentation, and actually it went well, we did impress the client, and the project is still ongoing at this point. That project is a very special one for me at enCity.

enCity: What is most important for you in the way you design?

Ngoc Mai: I think for new projects, not urban renovation projects, it’s a chance to introduce better things than what has been done before. I care about the comfort of people that live in that community: how they can get to public areas easily, by buses or by walking, because I want the things I have experienced in more developed countries. Even the design of the sidewalk or the entrance point of a particular building or park is be important and should be carefully considered because all those small things will together create a unique experience. 

Ngoc Mai: When I first joined enCity I thought, ‘let’s just give it a try and see how it goes, if I can fit into this larger field’. After 2 years of working I think I have learned a lot from Dzung and the team, and I hope to be able to really understand the processes forming the projects, from the concept stage to the actual construction implementation. We are working mostly on urban design ideas and strategic planning now, but I hope we can push the boundaries to take part in implementing projects in the future.