Preface by VTN Architects; Introduction by Vo Trong Nghia; Edited by Oscar Riera Ojeda
Oscar Riera Ojeda Publishers, July 2021
Hardcover | 8-1/2 x 11 inches | 320 pages | English | ISBN: 9781946226952 | $59.00
In an age of overpopulation and rapid urban development, most Vietnamese houses are located within crowded cities. Therefore, the residents suffer from polluted air with little green space for themselves. The presence of televisions, Internet, and social media also poses problems for urban dwellers. People are mentally stressed from constant social pressure and the modern lifestyle. They have limited space for activities, for living life, and for enjoying nature. Understanding the situation, VTN Architects’ “Houses for Trees” connect people to nature, creating pockets of greenery within our concrete cities. Our houses become ecosystems that merge natural energy and natural materials to produce net-zero buildings for society. Water is recycled. Spaces are bathed in natural light and fresh air. Solar panels are installed. Our houses also become hotspots for activities such as planting trees and urban farming. They boost interaction between family members, strengthen the atmosphere within each household, and improve people’s minds and bodies. The more we build, the more we bring nature back to urban living, the happier people are, and the greener our society becomes. Each house that we construct becomes a pocket of parks for the cities, reconciling nature to modern urban dwellers.
Based in Ho Chi Minh City, VTN Architects infuses its work with lushly planted walls, hanging vines, structure-piercing trees, weathered stones, and sunken landscapes.
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Houses follows Bamboo Architecture and Green Architecture in an apparent trilogy of monographs published by Oscar Riera Ojeda on Vietnamese architect Vo Trong Nghia and his eponymously abbreviated firm VTN Architects. Although the first two books did not overlap in any of the presented projects, four of the fifteen houses featured here are also in Green Architecture. While the presentation of those four houses closely, but not precisely, matches, the eleven other houses adequately justify the extra expense in getting this monograph and completing the trilogy. What comes across to me in this book is the amazing diversity of VTN's residential designs, which are all conceptualized as "Houses for Trees" but don't repeat themselves in any discernible way.
VTN's most famous project is House for Trees, which features five small volumes capped by trees and suitably graces the cover of Green Architecture. The name of that project obviously lends itself to the wider concept of the firm's houses that is expressed in this book's introduction. What intrigues me most about the phrase "Houses for Trees" is the use of the word "for" rather than "of" or "with" or another preposition. "For" says to me that the trees are as important as the house's residents — or going further, the trees are also residents. House for Trees puts them on the roof, as do other houses, but some of the designs bring trees into interior courtyards, put bamboo or other vegetation on the facades, or hybridize approaches through the creation of terraces and in-between spaces that are settings for trees and result in cooling microclimates ideal to address Vietnam's heat and humidity.
As much as I love every photogenic house in Houses and can easily see myself living comfortably in any of them, outside of the S House series of houses for low-income houses at the end of the book, all of the houses express a condition that is mildly upsetting. Aligned with the dramatic economic growth in Vietnam that Nghia mentions, these are large houses for affluent clients. That in and of itself is fine, especially given that most of the houses are for three-generation families; but when viewed in concert with the lack of green space in Ho Chi Minh City, where most of the houses are located, and the abundance of vegetation in the houses, VTN's houses bring elements that would benefit many into the confines of the house for the comfort of the relatively few. As such, the houses are islands of green in metaphorical expanses of gray. I think of them akin to the over-sized houses in the United States built with home theaters and golf simulators and the like; if houses provide everything for their residents, what happens to the social amenities — the parks, cinemas, recreational centers, etc. — that have traditionally defined cities?
This critique is a bit disingenuous, though, as it's clearly not Nghia's responsibility to develop anything beyond a property's footprint. Nevertheless, the biggest impact on the environment and the well-being of people would be a city full of Houses for Trees. Nghia would like this, too, and not so he can get more work; he writes: "We hope other architects reference our architecture as approaches to improve people's living conditions in modern cities and to better society." I hope so too.