As I have said before in this blog, Vietnam has some of the finest modernist residential architecture found anywhere in the world. Vietnamese architects have refined rich versions of modernism over six decades, and the density of high quality modernist architecture for houses is much higher in Việt Nam than in other places of the world.
While only 35 years old (in 2012), the Vietnamese architect Võ Trọng Nghĩa is the most famous of the Vietnamese architects designing masterpieces at this time. I wrote previously about Mr. Nghĩa's Elip Café back in 2009. That café is constructed almost entirely of bamboo formed into structural elements and enclosures to form an ellipse for the cafe. Mr. Nghĩa has designed several projects using bamboo as the primary element, culminating in the Vietnam Pavilion for the Shanghai 2010 World Expo. This project is shown in the photo below, published on Mr. Nghĩa's website.
Now the New York Times has published Mr. Nghĩa's masterpiece of modernist residential architecture constructed recently in District 2 of Ho Chi Minh City. This article, written by the Hanoi-based free-lance writer Mike Ives, also features a beautiful slide show of the exterior and interior of the house. The headline for the article, "In Vietnam, a Traditional Home Design Goes Green", is somewhat misleading. While the house configuration is standard in Việt Nam, the style is definitely not traditional unless one recognizes that modernism represents the most common style for houses in southern Việt Nam.
What Mr. Nghĩa calls the "Stacking Green House" is actually the standard configuration "tube house" common to all areas of Việt Nam. On a standard 4-meter wide by 20-meter long lot, the typical tube house rises four or five stories, with blank walls on the adjacent lots. Therefore the tube houses often seem like stacked caves, and the front facade and the rooftop is the only opportunity for design expression.
Mr. Nghĩa has perforated the interior configuration using light wells to break up the interior spaces and provide light through to a courtyard on the ground floor. But the primary innovation is the use of concrete planters stacked across the facades to allow ventilation through the facades to the interior spaces within while maintaining privacy for the occupants.
There is rarely a natural view from a house in dense Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, so an unobstructed view out windows is not really necessary. The rooftop terraces offer exterior views when wanted. Mr. Nghĩa has provided in this house what is really necessary: natural plants across the openings on each floor that allow ventilation while screening out the dust. The result is a house that does not feel like a cave and has an abundance of filtered light.
The front elevation is a simple composition of only two elements: white concrete and plantings. The organizing idea is minimalist while accomplishing the environmental goals. The seemingly random spacings of the concrete planters are actually set by the growing heights of the pre-selected plantings.
This Vietnamese house thus exemplifies what is best about modernist architecture: it is a thoughtful response to the goals for the uses within, and then applies a very simple idea to achieve the goals with a pleasing composition.
All photographs shown here (except the Vietnam Pavilion) are by © Hiroyuki Oki and are published on Mr. Nghĩa's website, the above referenced New York Times article, ArchDaily on 20 January 2012, and the "yellow trace" blog on 30 January 2012.