Interview – Oanh Tran, Architect, on her creative pursuits of photography, art and design

Oanh Tran is an architect and a designer currently living in (and loving) Zurich, Switzerland. Born and raised in Vietnam, Oanh is professionally trained in architecture with a Master degree from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and then later a Master of Advanced Studies degree from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH). In her free time, she likes to travel, take photos, paint and do small graphic design works.

How has studying architecture influenced your other creative pursuits like photography, art, and design?

Architecture is, in fact, a very multi-disciplinary practice. I learned to create three-dimensional spaces, but also have to understand the urban context, landscape, and human behaviours. Through architecture, I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of light and shadow, of nature, and the impact of colours. I also have to excel in graphic design, which I need to use a lot when layouting and designing my posters or portfolios.

Architecture is my teacher in all other creative pursuits. 

How and where do you find inspiration for your art?

I’ve found my inspiration in both nature and urban contexts. I take most of my photos during my travels or day trips hiking in the countryside. Graphically I’m always drawn towards mid-century designs (think the Bauhaus) and vintage travel postcards.

How would you describe your visual style?

I am still experimenting with many styles. Generally, I try to create clean, modern, simple designs, but I also love to experiment with playful, colourful, organic motifs. I wish I had more time to practice painting with watercolour – it’s a wonderful medium.

You have lived in Vietnam, Singapore, UK and now Switzerland. How has each of these places shaped your outlook as a creative person?

Interesting question! I’ve never thought about how each place where I’ve lived has shaped my outlook, but in general, living in different places has trained me to look at things in different perspectives and to appreciate cultural differences between the East and West. Moving from the metropolitan cities of Saigon and Singapore to Zurich was the biggest change in my life. I’ve learned to live slower and be more sensitive to the changes in seasons, which are almost nonexistent in Southeast Asia.

You also have travelled quite a lot. Which country/city is your favourite destination?

Anywhere with narrow, winding alleys and colourful houses! I love quaint old towns, where you can see local lives spilling out on the streets. Some of my favourite cities are Hoi An of Vietnam, Venice of Italy, and many small towns in the Provence region of France. Recently I’ve been to South America (Peru) for the first time and was amazed how different the landscape, flora, fauna and people there are to other parts of the world that I know. I hope I can explore more of this region in the future.

You call your creative showcase – Lulu and Isabelle. What’s the story behind that name?

It is the combined nicknames of mine and my husband’s – who is also an architect and loves to take photos. One of the first photos I entered into a photo challenge was his, so I chose a name that reflected both of us. The collaboration stopped there, as he has other hobbies, but the name stays because I find it cute and memorable.

Your “Pattern Spotting“ photo series brings together your architecture background with your interest in photography. Tell us the story behind this project.

I love to explore unique angles that are often overlooked. By zooming into architectural elements like windows, balconies, screens, tiles, etc. I create photos of buildings, sometimes famous buildings, that are not commonly seen. I didn’t start this as a “project” consciously, rather in hindsight: after browsing through many of my photos, I realised I’m naturally drawn to patterns. I still have a lot to explore about myself, my interests and my potentials.

What projects/things are you currently working on?

I haven’t started yet but already have ideas about creating a series of patterns based on my “pattern spotting” photo series, featuring urban elements and colourful compositions. I wish I had more than 24 hours a day to execute all the things I have in my head! Working full time as an architect is already very busy.

You are an architect, a photographer, a designer and an artist? Which pursuit is the most satisfying out of all these?

I wouldn’t call myself a photographer or artist, rather a hobbyist in these disciplines. Although I find joy doing all of these, architecture is for me still the most satisfying, as the impact on people’s lives is real and the reward, if you do it right, is priceless. What I like about other creative activities is that you can finish a project (a card/painting/pattern) in a much shorter time and still have a sense of “achieving something”. An architectural project can last for years – the housing project I’m currently working on has been going on for 4 years. It takes a long time until you see the final result.

How do you judge the success of your own work?

I create first for myself – things that I like, but if others also like them too – to me it’s already a small success. I love to send people a self-made card and hear that it’s brightened up their day :).

What are your goals when you look ahead?

I don’t have a specific goal but I enjoy learning new things and push myself to learn new things all the time. In this new year I plan to learn a new foreign language (living in Switzerland where everyone can speak at least 3 languages makes me a bit envious), read more books and continue investing my free time into creative pursuits. Maybe someday these activities can bring me a significant extra source of income, who knows.

How has your website helped you?

My website has helped me to showcase my works and gain more exposure. I have no knowledge of coding, so the super easy and user-friendly platform of Pixpa is ideal to start with. I also appreciate the efforts that Pixpa marketing team has made to bring attention to both the website-building service and the works of individual creative professionals like myself. I’ve discovered a lot of amazing works through Pixpa’s Instagram and blog.

Check out Oanh’s portfolio website – built on Pixpa

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