Posted by: abodesignco | 03/29/2009

Vietnam: Landscape

I received a lot of requests for more information on the architecture of Vietnam and thought I might address it in this post since landscape & architecture often go hand in hand.

Vietnam’s cities carry the architectural traces of the many phases of its history. The city of Hue, capital of the Nguyen dynasty, features the Citadel and other imperial structures, such as the mausolea of former emperors. In 1993 UNESCO designated the Citadel and other imperial sites as a part of their World Heritage List and have subsequently begun renovations to repair the extensive damage they received in the 1968 Tet Offensive.

Halong Bay

Halong Bay, Unesco World Heritage Site

The French left behind an impressive legacy of colonial architecture, particularly in Hanoi, Hue, and Saigon.

Colonial architecture, Modern Art Museum, HCMC

Colonial architecture, Modern Art Museum, HCMC

Colonial authorities meticulously planned these cities, creating wide, tree-covered avenues that were lined with impressive public buildings and private homes. Many of these structures still serve as government offices and private residences. Following the division of the country in 1954, South Vietnam saw an increase in functional American-style buildings, while North Vietnam’s Eastern Bloc allies contributed to the construction of massive concrete dormitory housing. The 1990s brought an array of new architectural styles in the cities as people tore down houses that had for years been neglected and constructed new ones, normally of brick and mortar. New construction has removed some of the colonial flavor of the major cities.

Promenade, Bien Hoa

Promenade, Bien Hoa

District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

City residents often congregate to sit and relax at all hours of the day in parks, cafes, or on the street side. The busiest locations during the day are the markets where people buy fresh meat, produce, and other essentials. Religious structures such as Christian churches, Buddhist temples, and spirit shrines are often crowded to capacity on worship days. Almost all lowland communities have structures dedicated to the war and revolution. These range in size from a large monument for war dead in Hanoi to the numerous cemeteries and cenotaphs for the war dead in towns and villages across the nation. These sites only commemorate those who fought for the victorious north, leaving those who served the south officially uncommemorated.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hanoi

Vietnamese rural villages feature a variety of architectural styles. Village residents in lowland river deltas usually live in family compounds that feature one or more rectangular-shaped houses made of brick and mortar. Compounds often have large open areas on the ground for drying rice. Village homes are normally built extremely close to each other, creating nuclear or semi-nuclear settlements surrounded by agricultural fields. Historically, villages planted dense stands of bamboo around their communities to define their boundaries and protect them from trespassers, though these are disappearing. In poor areas, such as in the central provinces of Nghe An and Quang Binh, many families still live in thatched houses.

Hoi An - Homes with a View

Hoi An - Homes with a View

Rice Patties, Sapa

Rice Patties, Sapa

Halong Bay

Halong Bay

Regardless of their type, the main entrance to most homes is in the center of the long side, directly before the family ancestral altar. Kitchens, regarded as women’s spaces, are on the side. Lowland villages have a variety of sacred spaces, such as Buddhist temples, spirit shrines, lineage halls, and the communal house (a sacred structure that houses the village guardian spirit’s altar). These spaces normally have behavioral restrictions such as prohibitions against entry while in a polluted state to protect their sacredness. Ladies, remember to bring your sweater if you are wearing a sleeveless top as you will be denied entry if you cannot cover up. Highland minority groups often live in either thatched houses or in houses raised on stilts. Many of these houses maintain discrete spaces defined by age or gender.

Seeing all the different cities and villages in Vietnam was quite an education. In the west we some time take for granted the division between the rich and poor because we often don’t see them.  In Vietnam it is very apparent who is rich and who is poor and depending on where you visit, you may just see it in neighbours who live side by side.

Me walking down a mountain, Sapa

Me walking down a mountain, Sapa

Halong Bay

Halong Bay

All photos courtesy of Gwen Nguyen Photography.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: