layered.typepad.com > Houses in Ho Chi Minh City

Unlike Hà Nội where most new houses have a very historicist decorative design, the new houses in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) are more modernist if not just utilitarian. And while the houses in Hà Nội are most often painted ochre or vermillion, there is a much greater use of other colors in HCMC. As in Hà Nội, most houses are "tube houses" in that they are very narrow but very long. Although I haven't confirmed this yet, it is said that these lots are narrow because property taxes are based on the width of the lot at the street line. In HCMC, I guess (without confirmation yet) that many of the new houses are designed by young architects trying out new ideas, and this is very good to see. This in contrast to the usual utilitarian modernist larger buildings in HCMC. These pictures can be viewed by clicking on the first or top picture in the album and then click "next" on each photo to proceed though the album in slide show fashion.

11 Tube Houses

11 Tube Houses

These three houses are typical of the "tube houses" that predominate all over Vietnam. The lots are very narrow and long, presumably because the lots used be taxed on the width of the lot at the street. Others say that the term "tube" applies to the long corridor connecting the rooms and courtyards along the length of the house at each level.


12 French Restaurant

12 French Restaurant

This is an adaption of an old French colonial villa for restaurant use -- Au Manoir de Khai is the most expensive restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City. Most of these villas are in District 3 of HCMC. Many villas remain in use as homes, but most have been adapted for use as business offices and apartments. The villas are surrounded by walls at the street and side property lines, but there also seems to be a disturbing trend to build one-story commercial spaces along the street line, occupying the front yards of the villas.


13 Picturesque Old Villa

13 Picturesque Old Villa

This restaurant is typical of the many restaurants in District 3 of Ho Chi Minh City in that odd elements have been added to the basic villa to present an image for the restaurant.


14 Neighborhood Change

14 Neighborhood Change

This photograph unfortunately makes the old villa look submerged in the new tower construction behind it. Even though I am an architect and should know better, I cannot define the highly decorative style of this villa. This street is in District 3 of Ho Chi Minh City.


15 High-rise Apartment Building

15 High-rise Apartment Building

There are very few high-rise apartment or condo buildings in Ho Chi Minh City so far -- this is a small complex located at the south end of District 1 close to the center of HCMC. Although the design is a bit too historicist for my taste, these buildings fit into the neighborhood fairly well.


16 Chợ Lớn High-rises

16 Chợ Lớn High-rises

This is the only set of standard high-rise housing I found in Ho Chi Minh City -- this was built by Taiwanese investors in the Chinese district of HCMC, Chợ Lớn. In looking up at the units, I noted that a large majority of them were empty. Friends of mine in Chợ Lớn felt that the prices for these units were much hiigher than standard units thoughout the city, and they and their friends preferred the standard four-story walkups to these sterile units in the sky. There may be other similar high-rise buildings in the new southern suberbs of HCMC, but I did not get out there.


17 Chợ Lớn Corner

17 Chợ Lớn Corner

This is a very interesting major street corner in the Chợ Lớn district of HCMC. I suppose the architectural style of the old building on the left is primarily French colonial, but it includes a Chinese influence as well. Maybe it was designed by committee. And the higher building on the right also defies definition -- a bit like modern architecture in France or Holland today.


18 Chợ Lớn Tenement House

18 Chợ Lớn Tenement House

There is a lot of run-down or squatter-shack housing in parts of Ho Chi Minh City, but usually not along the major streets. This tenement house is on Phồ (Street) Trấn Hưng Đạo, the major street in Quận (District) 5 of HCMC.


19 Phố (Street) Bù Viện

19 Phố (Street) Bù Viện

This street scene is typical for the urban fabric of houses in most districts of Ho Chi Minh City -- five-story houses with commercial space on the ground floor. This particular street is Bùi Viện in the Phạm Ngũ Lão neighborhood of Quận (District) 1. This neighborhood is the "backpacker" budget hotel area of Sài Gòn, so most of these houses are hotels or guest houses.


20 Hẻm off Phố (Street) Bùi Viện

20 Hẻm off Phố (Street) Bùi Viện

A hẻm is an alleyway or lane off a main street. This is very common in all Vietnamese cities, and many houses (and hotels, in this case) open off these hems. Each hẻm is numbered off the streets giving access to them -- in this case this is hẻm 40 off Phố Bùi Viện. Then each house is numbered within the hẻm so that the Ly Ly Guesthouse in this picture has an address 40/2 Phố Bùi Viện because it is the second house in from the street in hẻm 40.


21 Phố (Street) Nguyễn Trãi

21 Phố (Street) Nguyễn Trãi

Most of the houses in this collection were photographed along this street, which runs from Chợ Lớn (District 5) to downtown Sài Gòn (District 1). This was my favorite street when I lived here in 1972 when it was named Vo Thanh Street. Note the good use of vegetation on the upper reaches of these houses.


22 Hotel

22 Hotel

This is a fairly new hotel in close to Chợ (Market) Bến Thành in downtown Sài Gòn (District 1). There is none of the decorativeness common to Hà Nội buildings.


23 Glitzy

23 Glitzy

This is not a house -- it is a commercial building in a residential neighborhood. However, residential neighborhoods in Vietnam always have a lot of ground floor commercial spaces, so commercial and residential uses just mix in together in the scene. In this case, I suppose no one has complained about having this solely commercial building in their neighborhood.


24 Commercial

24 Commercial

This building may or may not have a housing unit on the upper floors, but it definely displays a commercial aesthetic. It stands out because of its color.


25 Minimalist

25 Minimalist

This new hotel (I assume) is crisply crafted with a modern minimalist treatment.


26 Decorative

26 Decorative

There are a few buildings in Ho Chi Minh City that display the decorative designs common to buildings in northern Vietnam. Maybe an architect from Hà Nội designed this building.


27 Brown/turqoise

27 Brown/turqoise

These three buildings are well-crafted, but the middle house is exceptionally well thought out. Notice the curved drop-soffit panel below each balcony that fits with the inset decorative panels on the end walls of the balconies. Definite art deco influences, but carried out in an original manner that is very well detailed. These buildings are definitely designed for air conditioning though -- none of the ventilation panels common to Vietnamese architecture that I think are important.


28 Street Level

28 Street Level

These are the same buildings from the preceeding photo (27 Brown/turqoise), showing the ground floor commercial spaces. The ground floor design has absolutely nothing in common with the house above, which is typical -- the ground floor commercial spaces are usually very utiliarian and get covered with signage anyway.


29 Blue/grey

29 Blue/grey

Interesting geometry -- the left third of this facade slopes and warps back to accentuate the balconies of the upper floors in the middle third of the facade. Neat trick in a post-modern-influenced simple and well-crafted design.


30 Colorful

30 Colorful

Well-done collage of color and geometry in this building. There is so little opportunity for light into these tube houses that I wonder why there is no glass instead of the big blue opaque forms in the middle of the upper floor facades. The electric and telecommunications cables make architectural photpgraphy very difficult.


31 Bright

31 Bright

This very colorful corner building makes good use of the layering of planes to define outside and inside spaces along the long elevation. I wonder why the corner facade has not been dealt with as deftly as the long elevation.


32 Simple Design

32 Simple Design

In contrast to the colorful examples shown in the other photos, this house is a very simple minimalist design. Notice the "moiré" curvy design on the glass at each level -- it fits very subtly with the design and adds fun to what otherwise would be overly serious.


33 White

33 White

These three white houses fit very well together -- color and detail (such as different railing designs) are used to differentiate them. I like the blue/white house on the left best because different planes are used to layer the facades on each level, and the top level is set back to create a terrace, in addition to the usual roof terrace. This is not often done because I think most owners want to maximize their house floor area within the five floors. This setback is also a generous tribute to its next-door neighbor.


34 Gothic

34 Gothic

This is a very unusual design for a Sài Gòn house with gothic detailing. I wish the detailing had been carried through to the street level so that it had more presence -- there is not enough of it, and it is submerged in the larger nondescript building next to it.


35 Corner Building

35 Corner Building

This corner house has some heft to it that is not often seen in the more delicate houses of Vietnam. Those houses look delicate because their posts and beams and roof planes are usually narrow or thin. This house has provided bulk in those elements that give it enhance presence. There is also a thoughtful rythym in the detailing of the guard rails on each level.


36 Blue/white

36 Blue/white

This house explores several design ideas at one time to make up an interesting composition that is held together through the blue/white colors. It is my favorite in this collection although the detailing is not as deftly handled as some of the other better crafted houses. Notice that the ladder (not a normal element on the front of Sài Gòn houses) pinches narrower in the middle -- I wouldn't want to have to scramble down that ladder in an emergency. Call it a decorative element.


37 Modern Building

37 Modern Building

I like the openness of this corner house to the hèm or lane to its right. It negotiates the turn around the corner very well.


37 Purple/orange

37 Purple/orange

This is the normal design for Sài Gòn houses, but has been enhanced through an effective use of colors.


39 Street Corner 1972

39 Street Corner 1972

I took this picture in Sài Gòn in 1972 because I was amazed at the modernist design of this corner block. I was not able to find it on this last trip this year. There was a greater need for ventilation screens in those days without air conditioning, which were used deftly as elements in this block to enhance the design


40 Gate

40 Gate

This is a very nice use of colors, layers, and detail to create a very welcoming gate with an original art piece within the design.