by Meghna MehtaDec 05, 2020
The city of Đà Lạt in Vietnam is a backpackers’ hub, and a quick pit-stop for those taking the oft-quoted spiritual journey through the country in Southeast Asia, lending the homestay to be a custom made typology and a boon for those who live life on the go, as opposed to lofty hotels. The Le House team, despite the relatively small size of plot and resources available, managed to imbue the building with a modern “designed” aesthetic full of soul, and nothing short on amenities for even the traveller on a budget. “Nắp Ấm” literally translates to a warm lid, and is also another name for the pitcher plant in the region. While language may lend both these translations being on rather different ends, the core connotation of the building being able to provide a cocooned refuge to the transient resident stays intact, and that is what the Le House team works with.
The site for the building is tucked away in a narrow alley and responds to two distinct terrain types along its length and breadth, steeply sloping from its back to its frontage. Following a relatively simple planning, with rooms centered around a narrow semi-open court slipped to one end of the building, the homestay attempts to utilise every square foot of the limited space available innovatively, using a mix of linear and curvilinear geometry. No two rooms on the ground floor are planned to be the same, which also leads to an interesting mix in typologies, including private bedrooms and dorm rooms for groups of travellers. The more public functions outline a spine like lobby in the middle, while the rooms accessed through it correspond, sometimes whimsically even, to the carving-out of these spaces from what could have been a rectilinear branched layout.
The division of spaces becomes ordered and sparse as we proceed upwards, with the first floor housing bunk beds and common amenities. The second floor hosts an alternate entry point to the building, being on the high end of the site, accessed from a different, parallel street, along with communal facilities for the entire stay, including a food court and common kitchen. The building’s built up footprint reduces on the floors above as a double height atrium is carved above the stairwell and eating spaces. This floor is dubbed the ‘attic’, following up on a predominantly American typology of residences, with a sharply pitched roof over the two floors it occupies, and an exclusive duplex bedroom with a capacity of up to four double beds, ideal for a more private group of travellers.
The most remarkable aspect of the design, however, is the perforated white façade that not only stands in stark contrast to the rather humble colourings of its neighborhood, but also celebrates it, by acting as an oasis of illumination for nearly an entire block, seen from a bird’s eye. Despite punctures in individual floors that impart an indomitable quality to the diverse scale of spaces in the interior, the steel sheeting covers the building almost wholly in two parts, with the exception of the stairwell sandwiched in the middle and covered with clear glazing. The sheeting that covers the majority of the building’s surface expanse in white in the form of two cuboids topped with gables is perforated with an interesting pattern of flattened tessellations, CNC machined as if bearing its own palaeographic scripture on its façade. Apart from lending the building its conceptual and functional form of an illuminated lantern at night, the perforations have a number of climatological imperatives as well. This additional sheathing has proven to be a great adaptation in the regional high humidity, affording a certain porous and airy quality to the building, in what is called the “city of eternal spring”.
During the day, the residents experience a different narrative, which is more inward, since the sun makes its way to the interior through these perforations, forming a series of interesting patterns. The designers term the daylit interiors to be a photographer’s haven, owing to this almost ethereal quality and play of light. Apart from the exterior, white is a dominant scheme in the interiors as well, and coupled with plenty of greens from the foliage, and its pinewood embellishments, creates a “harmonious collaboration with gentle intimacy”. The modestly prized homestay is complete with a commonly accessible Jacuzzi in its central court. Beaming through its orifices, this unique building, according to the designers, is its own signage.