2020 was a difficult year for Middle Vietnam; torrential rain and typhoons had submerged many areas of the country. Around the same time, we started our project in Quang Nam Province. The site is located on the banks of a river in Cam Thanh Commune – a corner plot on a junction in a small village surrounded by a typical Hoi An agricultural landscape. Our aim was to create a house that could cope with climate change and heavy rainfall, while still reflecting the beauty of the local architecture.
The client, an environmental expert moving from the crowded city of Saigon, wished the house to be a tranquil space deeply connected to the local countryside. This house is not only a family home for four humans but also a place where birds, spiders, or insects find shelter in the foliage. Furthermore, it operates as a micro-community center where the owner works with her environmental activist group and also as a meeting place and amenity for neighbors to strengthen community bonds.
The client's wishes and brief gave us the opportunity to create a 'structure' of spaces. Traditional Hoi An shophouses are arranged in a linear manner; we have taken this vernacular arrangement and instead coiled the sequence of ground floor spaces around an interior courtyard like a snail shell. These are arranged in an overlapping manner and merge into the courtyard to allow for different scenarios of usage. By raising the ground floor above the garden, we not only increase flood resistance but create new spatial possibilities. For example, the dining room floor becomes an inviting exterior bench for social interactions, offering greater permeability between interior and exterior. Just like an ecosystem, it is an organization of discrete objects; when combined together, they find their meaning.
Throughout the design process for the house, this theme of 'structure' was a key part of our concept, which we interpreted in two different ways. Firstly, it is the combination of the different spaces and components that make up the whole, such as the snail-shell spatial organization or the exposed pre-engineered steel structure.
Secondly, we use the term ‘structure’ to refer to the relationship between the house and how it is inhabited. As different activities and forms of occupancy take place, we encourage these to occur under different scenarios within the house and courtyard. The overlaps between different rooms allow for perceptions of the space to change over time. As it is lived in by the client, her family, and her neighbors, they create their own interpretations of the space, which will blend together and complete the house. In this respect, I think human activity creates a structure of occupancy that is more important than the conventional architectural structure of the house.
When I think about the house and how its spaces change over time, I see it as a living entity. The house is like a tree; it has different gaps, different shades, it becomes beautiful not only in the sunlight but also in the parts that fade into darkness. I think the unification of a tree is how 'structure' becomes 'architecture'.