Labri House is a shelter of glass, concrete, and vines embodying 'living in nature'

Designed by Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates as a retirement home for a couple in Huế, Vietnam, this residence comprises transparent blocks placed within a forested landscape.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Jul 25, 2022

Although the notion of integrating residential architecture with nature is not exactly new on its own accord, the translation of this idea into tangible built space is a process that can take shape in a multitude of forms. Spurred on by distinct parameters and objectives, this approach can yield unique perspectives with each different case, context, scale, or program. From the incorporation of biophilic design elements to innovations in organic architecture, every iteration of this archetype has gradually propelled the sphere of residential design to blend further into natural ecosystems - ushering humanity closer towards its original living environment. Labri House, a residence for a middle-aged couple in Vietnam, by Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates is yet another incarnation of this model, set along a 100 sqm plot in the city of Huế.

  • The residence is bordered by a pond to one side, while its front is screened by vegetation on site | Labri House | Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates | STIRworld
    The residence is bordered by a pond to one side, while its front is screened by vegetation on site Image: Hiroyuki Oki
  • Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates has presented a unique take on merging nature and architecture with their design for the home | Labri House | Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates | STIRworld
    Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates has presented a unique take on merging nature and architecture with their design for the home Image: Hiroyuki Oki

The designers reveal that during preliminary discussions with the couple, their principal wish was: “to build a home where the two of us could spend the rest of our lives happily and peacefully.” Nestled into the end of a narrow alleyway, the manifestation of this desire is bordered by a pond to one side while its front is veiled by a dense undergrowth of plants. Since the project was conceptualised as the clients' retirement home, it harnesses this natural screening barrier to conceal private sections of the program from view, granting a fair degree of seclusion from its urban surroundings.

  • Conceptual Diagram of Form Development | Labri House | Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates | STIRworld
    Conceptual Diagram of Form Development Image: Courtesy of Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates
  • Lacking a traditional façade design, the home has been ordered as a series of four transparent blocks rotated and placed around natural features on the plot | Labri House | Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates | STIRworld
    Lacking a traditional façade design, the home has been ordered as a series of four transparent blocks rotated and placed around natural features on the plot Image: Hiroyuki Oki

Beyond this, a collection of four transparent blocks of differing heights have been randomly rotated and placed along the site in relation to existing natural features, encompassing the majority of the program areas. Through landscape design situated within the negative spaces between them, the design elevates the concept of a "home in nature" to a whole new level, transforming the plot into a lush, forested microcosm where vegetation percolates into every corner. "As the name speaks for itself, 'Labri' is literally a secret shelter, which is not easy to find either on a map or even in practice. On viewing the house, you might get the feeling that it has not been constructed by human hands, but rather, it has sprouted from its context as naturally as a tree comes out of the ground," relays the firm in a statement.

Frangipani trees have been embedded into the roofscape of each block | Labri House | Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates | STIRworld
Frangipani trees have been embedded into the roofscape of each block Image: Hiroyuki Oki

Featuring triple-layered envelopes consisting of glass, vines, and concrete, the cubical volumes are connected by covered walkways, which form a single indoor route throughout the site, as courtyards and external paths between them allow for more direct access. Among the four blocks, the largest houses the bedroom, leading into an attached bath followed by the kitchen, and finally, the combined living and dining space. Each of the blocks is a single storey, with high ceilings in some adding volume where necessary. Within the outer glass enclosure, vines have been dangled over the inner concrete frame, with a buffer area between them acting as a transition zone under this nested structural configuration.

  • Residents can scale the blocks by means of fixed ladders | Labri House | Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates | STIRworld
    Residents can scale the blocks by means of fixed ladders Image: Hiroyuki Oki
  • The home’s entrance has been placed at a point of convergence between two covered walkways originating from the blocks | Labri House | Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates | STIRworld
    The home’s entrance has been placed at a point of convergence between two covered walkways originating from the blocks Image: Hiroyuki Oki
  • The frangipani trees provide shade during the day and can also withstand harsh storms and rains | Labri House | Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates | STIRworld
    The frangipani trees provide shade during the day and can also withstand harsh storms and rains Image: Hiroyuki Oki

In the absence of a traditional front façade design, the entrance to the home is situated at a point of convergence between pathways that emerge from the kitchen and living blocks. The paving between the blocks and green areas puts a biophilic spin on harlequin tile flooring, with grass and concrete pavers determining the texture of the ground. Only 55 sqm of the total site area is occupied by built forms - the rest acts as a habitat for local flora and fauna. "Apart from humans, there are other creatures living inside this shelter, or we could say, this forest. There are birds, butterflies, and trees which make up the majority of the living organisms here," mentions the firm.

  • Negative spaces between the blocks host courtyards and outdoor pathways | Labri House | Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates | STIRworld
    Negative spaces between the blocks host courtyards and outdoor pathways Image: Hiroyuki Oki
  • The blocks feature a triple-layered envelope consisting of glass, vines, and concrete | Labri House | Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates | STIRworld
    The blocks feature a triple-layered envelope consisting of glass, vines, and concrete Image: Hiroyuki Oki
  • The sense of enclosure is minimised by the transparency of the built forms | Labri House | Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates | STIRworld
    The sense of enclosure is minimised by the transparency of the built forms Image: Hiroyuki Oki

Despite Vietnamese architecture being renowned for its astute use of natural materials such as brick, bamboo, stone, and wood, the more contemporary materiality here radiates a clarity and lightness that still fits into its setting. Perhaps the most captivating result of this choice is how the blocks' transparency makes them exceedingly open to natural light. In fact, by eroding all distinctions between interior and exterior, residents can clearly see into each of the other blocks from any point along the site. The architects reveal, "There are no boundaries in Labri, no interior walls to separate spaces, and no exterior walls to block the house from the outside world. Users could watch the moon and stars in bed at night, or raindrops slipping on the glass on rainy days."

Residents can see into each of the volumes from most points throughout the site | Labri House | Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates | STIRworld
Residents can see into each of the volumes from most points throughout the site Image: Hiroyuki Oki

Fixed ladders allow residents to scale the blocks, where each roof scape is home to a frangipani tree. Selected due to their status as indigenous vegetation that thrives in local climates, the trees can shade the blocks below from excess sunlight while also being capable of enduring harsh downpours during the rainy season. They also morph throughout the year while blossoming in spring, exhibiting leafy flourishes during summer, or shedding leaves in the winter. By means of their introduction on the roofs, alongside the vines that have been draped on the walls to form green curtains that offer privacy, the architects have embedded nature into each of the home's surfaces.

  • View of the bedroom block | Labri House | Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates | STIRworld
    View of the bedroom block Image: Hiroyuki Oki
  • Nature is brought inwards through the glass envelopes, creating unique spectacles throughout the day | Labri House | Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates | STIRworld
    Nature is brought inwards through the glass envelopes, creating unique spectacles throughout the day Image: Hiroyuki Oki

Passive cooling is also central to the design, as seen in the use of skylights on the roof surfaces which allow hot air to exit the structures. Additionally, pivot doors and windows facilitate cross-ventilation, while the combination of vines, frangipani trees, and landscaping acts as a buffer - absorbing excess sunlight and heat throughout the day to keep internal spaces cool. Within the confines of the blocks, the interior design scheme is exceedingly minimal, expressed mainly in concrete partitions and wood furniture, merging easily with the naturalistic theme throughout the residence.

  • Floor Plan | Labri House | Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates | STIRworld
    Floor Plan Image: Courtesy of Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates
  • Section | Labri House | Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates | STIRworld
    Section Image: Courtesy of Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates

Even though Labri House is not the first example of organic or biophilic architecture in a residential context, its juxtaposition of natural and man-made does make a poignant statement on how the act of building respectfully in accordance with nature can yield results that are far greater than the sum of their parts. The result in this case, is a sanctuary filled with life, light, and activity, that achieves an appropriate balance between isolation and connectivity. Moreover, the building’s unique configuration is one that benefits an entire ecosystem rather than just its human users. By choosing to build in this manner, Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates has made a very strong case for further investigation into this outlook, as well as the need for humanity to coexist in amity with the natural world, for the good of all species and the planet at large.

Project Details

Name: Labri
Location: Le Thanh Ton Street, Huế, Vietnam
Site Area: 100 sqm
Gross Built Area: 55 sqm
Year of Completion: 2021
Architect: Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates

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