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AR House 2014 Winner: House for Trees

Updated: Aug 21, 2020

Tucked into a typical Vietnam side-street, the House for Trees blends simplistic ideological ambitions with compelling, well-crafted formal expression. The house also formally launched VTN ArchitectsGreen Architecture strategy.

Green Architecture | House for Trees
House for Trees

The Background

Under rapid urbanization, cities in Vietnam have diverged far away from their origins as rampant tropical forests. In Ho Chi Minh City, as an example, only 0.25% area of the entire city is covered by greenery. Over-abundance of motorbikes causes daily traffic congestion as well as serious air pollution. As a result, new generations in urban areas are losing their connections with nature.

“House for Trees”, a prototypical house built within a tight budget of 155,000 USD, was an effort to change this situation. The aim of project was to return green space into the city, accommodating high-density dwelling with big tropical trees. The house is a two-bedroom home for a family of three. It is built on vacant land hemmed in by buildings on all sides, in one of the most densely populated areas of Ho Chi Minh City

Five concrete boxes, each houses a different program, were designed as “pots” to plant trees on their tops. With thick soil layer, these “pots” also function as storm-water basins for detention and retention, therefore contribute to reduce the risk of flooding in the city when the idea is multiplied to a large number of houses in the future. Banyan trees were chosen for the roofs because they have above-ground roots.

The Design

In order to minimize costs and reduce the scheme’s carbon footprint, local and natural materials were employed throughout the design. External walls were made from in-situ concrete with bamboo formwork, with internal finishes exposing locally-sourced bricks.

Filling the unconventionally shaped site, the five units were positioned around a central courtyard, creating further small and interconnected gardens. Large glass doors and operable windows at the ground floor level ensure that each dwelling offers abundant light and ventilation, while making certain that the building remains secure and private. Common areas such as the dining room and library are located at the lower story, while above, upper floors accommodate private bedrooms and bathrooms. Blurring divisions between inside and outside, the courtyard and gardens – shaded by the trees above – become part of ground floor living space.

The Details

As mentioned earlier, the external walls were made of in-situ concrete using bamboo as formwork, which gave them a distinctive, finely ribbed texture. This was the first bamboo formwork building in Vietnam and also a first for VTN Architects. As a result, three main contractors withdrew during construction because they weren’t used to working with the material, and specialized laborers had to be brought in from the surrounding area. The internal finish was locally sourced exposed brick. A ventilated cavity layer separates the concrete and brick walls to protect the interior spaces from heat radiation.

Rooms are arranged in a seemingly random manner, each denoted as an individual enclave on plan, connected by external paths only. Common spaces such as the dining room and library are located on the ground floor. Upper floors accommodate private bedrooms and bathrooms, which are connected by bridges between blocks. The architects made this building as a series of physically discrete rooms because there are many stresses and pressures in the modern urban milieu and its polluted living environment. People need to go out more to cultivate a rapport with nature and the elements’, while also retaining a ‘sense of the private’.

The upper level gardens act as calming oases within the urban cacophony. These are raised above the sprawl and blare. The house is well-crafted. Its simple ideological ambitions have found a compelling formal expression.

See more photos of House for Trees.

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