The apartment block was built in the 1960s and has seen many changes since then. At first, it was a home for American military officers and high ranking officials working for the South Vietnam government. After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, some of the apartments were given to shipyard workers and the building gradually started to deteriorate.
As the city grew and developed, the street which this building is located on — Nguyen Hue — became more and more popular with tourists, so tenants started renting out their apartments in the block. Since around 2015, the block has found an increasingly commercial use and now offers an assortment of cafes, fashion boutiques and co-working spaces. The number of services change and expand and new hip places are popping up while older ones are closing down. However, not every apartment has become a café — there are also people still living in the building.
All of the balconies of this Cafe Apartment look out onto the Walking Street in downtown Ho Chi Minh, as well as the Saigon River. Inside, each floor is packed with cool spots to have a coffee, hang out, or meet new people in coworking spaces. There is a staircase leading to each floor, as well as an elevator, for which you have to pay 3,000 VND (around 11 euro cents) — a fee which can later be refunded by one of the cafes you visit.
This run-down looking and slightly disintegrating apartment block has been revived by the coffee spots which now attract the Vietnamese youth as well as numerous tourists. There is even a guide to the whole building for those who want to have the best and well-informed experience there.
Urban transformation of this sort has been omnipresent in cities all over the world with projects reviving old spaces, like this blue sports court in Mexico City or an old bank building turned into an ‘art experience’ in Berlin. The difference with the Cafe Apartment is how naturally and organically it came into being, without a plan or prior blueprints. This spot lives its own life in harmony with the city of Ho Chi Minh.