Vernacular Vietnam: 8 Tall, Thin Houses With Micro Courtyards

These deep, narrow interior courtyards extend the vibrant street life and alleyways of Saigon into the home.

Eric Baldwin Eric Baldwin

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Ho Chi Minh City stands at a vibrant cultural crossroads. Sited between the Mekong Delta and the Sài Gon River, Vietnam’s largest city mixes French and Vietnamese influences and has emerged as the nation’s economic heart. Today, the city continues to be referred to as Saigon, a name that originated from the French colonial rule of Cochinchina. Embracing a hybrid blend of architectural styles, the city’s urban fabric reflects increased urbanization and densification. As a result, much of Saigon’s prewar building stock has been replaced by recent development.

In an effort to balance this trend, new projects are being built to reinterpret Saigon’s heritage and bring life back to the city’s building stock. This has become especially evident in the residential sector, where designs are drawing inspiration from Vietnamese traditions while reimagining modern life. One such tradition centers on interior courtyards, spaces inserted within traditional long tube houses.

Here, residents trade width for height and depth, often lacking strong connections to nature or light. Interior courtyards are used to connect between floors and extend the vibrant street life and alleyways into the home. Taking a closer look at Saigon’s courtyard houses, the following collection explores projects that build upon Saigon’s unique character to reflect contemporary life.

ZEN House by H.a, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Conceived as a monastery, ZEN House was formed around peace and tranquility. A continuous open space centers around the home’s courtyard, a space defined by unrefined brick, bare wood and ferrous iron.

Breeze House by Mel Schenck kiến trúc sư, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Breeze House explores the “amorphousness, randomness and dissonance” of the information age. The modernist structure takes advantage of Vietnam’s tropical climate through indoor/outdoor spaces and openings throughout the exterior façade. These connect with court spaces and breezeways that maximize natural ventilation.

WASP House by TROPICAL SPACE, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Built for two siblings with two floors, WASP House is located in the Binh Tan District of Ho Chi Minh City. The home’s interior courtyard is emphasized by a central stair that doubles as a space to read, grow plants and relax.

Saigon House by a21 studio, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Saigon House is a project dedicated to the old Saigon-Gia Dinh, typically referred to as the “Van Duong” Palace. The home is also an expression of Saigon’s eclectic and romantic alleyways, with a central courtyard that connects the living quarters vertically through plantings and a playful mesh netting.

House 304 by KIENTRUC O, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

As a Vietnamese townhouse for a young family, this project features a tall vertical light well and courtyard that carves through each floor of the house. Provoking openness and connection, this focal point of the house explores the interplay between light and nature.

Thong House by NISHIZAWAARCHITECTS, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Located in a new urban development area in Southern Saigon, Thong House was designed around the connection between geometry and human experience. Formally, the project is a series of interconnected cubes and courtyards that are connected between the shifted volumes.

Kaleidoscope by CONG SINH ARCHITECTS, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

As an investigation into the Vietnamese long tube house, Kaleidoscope was built with private spaces linked by common areas for generations to mix. Made with open ventilation for the tropical climate, the project allows light to filter throughout each floor.

Vegan House by Block Architects, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

As a home for travelers, Vegan House was built as a place for people to meet up, share and cook Vietnamese traditional food. As an aggregation of the owner’s collection of furniture and antique architectural pieces, the design combines old windows throughout its façade and creates new gathering spaces within a traditional context.

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