LocationTân Phú, Vietnam
Design TeamMel Schenck, Nguyen Thi Tra Giang
Text description provided by the architects. This house is a modernist structure with an information age face. This is an experiment in expressing the amorphousness, randomness, and dissonance of the information age. This subjective analysis is paired with rational decisions to reduce energy usage through natural ventilation.
The primary goal for this house is to provide a comfortable place for the architect and his family in retirement. Lots of light and air are desired to take advantage of the indoor/outdoor opportunities provided in this tropical climate. Natural ventilation is desired while minimizing air conditioning, so a large proportion of the exterior facades are given over to openings to let the breeze flow through.
French colonial and early modernist houses in Viet Nam had extensive vents at the tops of exterior and interior walls on each floor, and later used ceiling fans to move air through the openings. But most houses in Viet Nam over the past two decades have become more like caves as air conditioning became more available at a reasonable cost. Air conditioning requires contained environments, so openings have been eliminated and doors and windows remain closed.
This house has louver glass windows at the tops of all exterior and interior cross-walls to allow ventilation throughout the house as well as up the open stairway. The louver windows may be closed if necessary to allow air conditioning, but in practice, air conditioning is rarely required and the breezes move through the house at all times.
Windows and doors are opened during the daytime in most Vietnamese houses for ventilation, but they must be closed at night for security. In most houses, steel grids or screens are provided on the inside of all windows and doors. In this house, the steel grid envelops the house at the outside of all balconies, so windows and doors may remain open at all times if desired. The effect is like living in a bird cage instead of jail cells. The steel screens outside of the balconies thus extend the rooms to include the balconies.
Balconies are common on Vietnamese houses, but are usually rectangular at 1 meter wide, which only allows a chair or two. The exterior doors and windows and the balcony edges of this house are splayed at angles to allow tables and chairs at the 3-meter-wide ends of the balconies.
This combination of splayed balcony edges on each floor, as well as the steel security screens, provides opportunities for an architecture beyond modernism. The architect highly respects the uniquely Vietnamese modernist style for houses that Vietnamese architects have developed over the past 80 years. They continue to experiment with abstract compositions of lines, patterns, materials, textures, colors, shapes, and volumes. But these compositions are almost always orthogonal. This design is not.
The angular edges of the balconies, with each floor set back a meter from the one below, compels the steel grid to cascade down the four-storey face of the house, warping as it goes. The warping exhibits amorphousness, the pattern of the steel cross-bars expresses randomness, and the layering of the screens against the balconies and light shelves displays the dissonance of the information age. The complexity of the information age is thus expressed in a simple concept.