A Typical Home: the Town House – Sai Gon, Vietnam

By: Duong Huynh, Project Manager

Housing is complex. Its stakeholders and creatures are as varied as the skin colors of the human race – developers and financiers, consumers and policy makers. Its value chains are highly intertwined – demand side and supply side, taking us from land obtainment to consumer off-take and move-in. At the core of this complex system lies the key product it helps to produce more of, and in high quality: the home.

So via this post, I hope to inspire my colleagues and myself in understanding the typologies of homes all over the world in closer detail. For this first venture, I chose Sai Gon, Vietnam; otherwise known as Ho Chi Minh City.

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Sai Gon’s location on the southern tail of Vietnam’s “S” shape

A map of Sai Gon’s districts

A map of Sai Gon’s districts

Typical traffic in Sai Gon during busy hours

Typical traffic in Sai Gon during busy hours

With any emerging markets, growth and architectural landmarks sit alongside dated low-density residential uses.

The glamorous and trendy Sai Gon at night

The glamorous and trendy Sai Gon at night

Low and mid-density uses lie below and alongside the city’s landmark tower

Low and mid-density uses lie below and alongside the city’s landmark tower

Within any nation and economy, many diverse sets of housing typologies exist. Vietnam is no exception.

High density new build apartments. Targets higher middle income.

High density new build apartments. Targets higher middle income.

High density new build apartments. Targets higher middle income.

Old mid-rise apartments. Targets low and low-middle income.

Semi-detached villa style town homes in Phy My Hung, District 7 – Sai Gon’s high income new suburb.

Semi-detached villa style town homes in Phy My Hung, District 7 – Sai Gon’s high income new suburb.

Detached villas.

Detached villas.

Under-construction self-build detached home for my grandma-in-law. Courtesy of my urban design architect significant other, Vinh Le.

Under-construction self-build detached home for my grandma-in-law. Courtesy of my urban design architect significant other, Vinh Le.

The working middle class housing typology we explore today lies among Sai Gon’s densely packed urban grid in relatively tight quarters.

Mixed use town homes facing a major road. The street level is almost exclusively reserved for commercial use in homes that face good traffic.

Mixed use town homes facing a major road. The street level is almost exclusively reserved for commercial use in homes that face good traffic.

Most Sai Gon residents live in a small size town home.

Zoomed in snapshot of a part of District 1, Sai Gon

Zoomed in snapshot of a part of District 1, Sai Gon

In this snapshot, note Google Map’s recording of many traffic arteries in white, leaving out rectangles of tan’s and green’s in between. Within each of these colored blocks, tens and at times hundreds of alleyways exist. Many of the alleyways are designated with numbers, not names.

Tight alleyways branch from and weave tightly along main traffic arteries. Most alleyways average 2.5 meters in width.

Tight alleyways branch from and weave tightly along main traffic arteries. Most alleyways average 2.5 meters in width.

A more prosperous neighborhood with formally paved and wider road.

A more prosperous neighborhood with formally paved and wider road.

Houses located along significantly wider residential roads guarantee notable increases in price. Properties with access to roads of at least 4-5 meters are deemed to have good “frontage” and hence valued higher. Note that the properties that line these wider streets also have wider land parcels.

Architect Vo Trong Nghia’s site plan for his green town home.

Architect Vo Trong Nghia’s site plan for his green town home.

As noted in the architect’s site plan above, typical desirable plots within the city often come in the common tube like size of 4 meters wide by 20 meters deep. Despite that highly constraining size, many parcels of 2.5-3 meters in width abound within the housing market.

A street view of the moderately sized home, which blends in with Sai Gon’s typical streetscape despite its highly sustainable design.

A street view of the moderately sized home, which blends in with Sai Gon’s typical streetscape despite its highly sustainable design. This is not affordable housing by any means, but it provides a cost-efficient well-designed solution to the current challenge of land scarcity.

Architect Vo Trong Nghia’s eco-conscious and efficiently budgeted project, the green town home (direct translation: the garden home), serves as an ideal vehicle for demonstrating the layout of the Vietnamese home amidst increasing land scarcity and need for sustainability in architecture.

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Due to high size constraints, particularly from the limited width of the land parcels, the Vietnamese town home often features one key function per floor. Here, the first floor serves as parking and guest’s welcome room. The second features living and dining rooms, leaving the upper two floors as private living quarters for the household.

Semi-enclosed parking space at street level.

Semi-enclosed parking space at street level.

Living and dining area, with small kitchenette tucked away behind the bar (glimpse at bottom right corner of picture). The Vietnamese typically favor an open living space with joined living and dining areas.

Living and dining area, with small kitchenette tucked away behind the bar (glimpse at bottom right corner of picture). The Vietnamese typically favor an open living space with joined living and dining areas.

Bath.

Bath.

Simple bed room.

Simple bed room.

The layout of uses of the green town home mirrors that of most vertically oriented town homes. Vo’s design stands out in its utilization of greenery as light and heat filters, as well as the vertical columns that allow for top-down lighting to reach the lower levels. The greenery also allows for privacy amidst the tightly packed homes.

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Vo paid particular detail to the home’s ability to blend into the street scape of Sai Gon despite its modernity. Above, the green town home is featured at the center of the street section to showcase its chameleon nature.

I’d like to also draw attention to a critical feature of the Vietnamese home – the shrine room. Vietnamese of all religions mostly practice ancestral worship. Within this spiritual belief, ancestors’ worship space must occupy an auspicious and respectful space within the home. Typically, the shrine room, where photographs of ancestors, incense and flowers are displayed, is located at the very top level of the home for reasons of spirituality and practicality. The most respectful space should be located at the top. Additionally, with the constant tropic heat and sun, the top floor of any town home is typically undesirable as living quarters due to its high heat retention.

Typical shrine room at the top level of a town home.

Typical shrine room at the top level of a town home.

Aside from this religious feature, the modern Vietnamese home’s uses differ little from that of other nations. Of course architectural differences and features still arise due to factors of climate, construction materials availability, design preferences, etc.

Well, that’s aside from the fact that most Vietnamese bathrooms feature an open bathing space. This means the entire bathroom’s floor space is considered a wet zone – as you might be able to observe from the drainage hole located at the bathroom corner in the picture below.

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Historically, families did laundry by hand and the bathroom floor is constantly utilized for such. However, as washers become more common in middle income households, consumers might phase out of this design feature.

 

 

Housing is a complex system. It is so inherently complex and challenging, because it lies at the core of every society, nation and family. Without a home, ordinary citizens cannot thrive no matter how hard they work. Only with increased access to housing can nations all over the world continue to nurture their best citizens and maintain their most beautiful sceneries and moments.

Typical day on a motorbike.

Typical day on a motorbike.

Rice patties.

Rice patties.

Canal in Hoi An.

Canal in Hoi An.

Dong Thap, the capital of lotus flowers.

Dong Thap, the capital of lotus flowers.

 

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