Tropical Space’s Cuckoo House in Vietnam deconstructs the narrative of walls

The Vietnamese studio has designed a simple yet sculpturesque form in local clay bricks that encloses a café and a home for a family of four.

by Zohra KhanPublished on : May 19, 2022

Ho Chi Minh City-based practice, Tropical Space, brings together an unconventional home for a family of four in the centre of the Vietnamese city. With walls clad in local clay bricks that sit in conjunction with an array of balconies and semi-circular openings, the project is referred to as the Cuckoo House. As per the design team, the choice of materiality was to permeate a sense of familiarity in the minds of the inhabitants, while the form of the home alluded to the imagery of the cuckoo clock.

  • The building is located in a dense residential neighbourhood of Ho Chi Minh City | Vietnam | Residential Architecture | STIRworld
    The building is located in a dense residential neighbourhood of Ho Chi Minh City Image: Oki Hiroyuki
  • The architecture features a simple yet sculpturesque form | Vietnam | Residential Architecture | STIRworld
    The architecture features a simple yet sculpturesque form Image: Oki Hiroyuki

Cuckoo House projects a robust blocky appearance in its neighbourhood – an urban renewal zone by a river in Da Nang, Vietnam. The building houses a café on the ground floor and living spaces for the family on the upper storeys. The architectural form is characterised by three independent blocks that are tied together by means of extended balconies and open spaces in a square plan arrangement; this complex sits above a rectangular base that encloses a courtyard-like garden and an indoor café.

The building houses a café on the ground floor and living spaces on the upper storeys | Vietnam | Residential Architecture | STIRworld
The building houses a café on the ground floor and living spaces on the upper storeys Image: Oki Hiroyuki

Architects Nguyen Hai Long and Tran Thi Ngu Ngon, founders of Tropical Space, envisioned the building's form in response to the tropical environment of the region. Drawing from the philosophy of the studio which believes that architecture could influence how people live with their surroundings, the building was conceptualised to allow seamless interaction between people and nature. The three blocks on the home’s upper storey enclosing the family’s private den are connected by a series of open to sky buffer spaces. From extended balconies to verandas and terrace-like zones, the interiors spill onto these spaces keeping family activities both private and open. It also encourages people to leave indoors and come outside for conversations and play.

  • Indoors spill onto open terraces | Vietnam | Residential Architecture | STIRworld
    Indoors spill onto open terraces Image: Oki Hiroyuki
  • Bedroom | Vietnam | Residential Architecture | STIRworld
    Bedroom Image: Oki Hiroyuki
  • Living space | Vietnam | Residential Architecture | STIRworld
    Living space Image: Oki Hiroyuki

The programmes in the upper three blocks follow a double storey layout. One block encloses a bedroom on the upper floor and a bathroom and closet on the lower. Second block features kids' bedroom on one storey, and living room on the floor below. The third block includes kitchen and dining.

  • Café on the ground floor | Vietnam | Residential Architecture | STIRworld
    Café on the ground floor Image: Oki Hiroyuki
  • Outdoor seating area and landscape in front of the café | Vietnam | Residential Architecture | STIRworld
    Outdoor seating area and landscape in front of the cafe Image: Oki Hiroyuki

The ground floor where the family-run café is located uses walls as a way to redefine the indoor-outdoor relationship. Deconstructing the narrative that walls separate two spaces, here three enclosing walls with large semi-circular door-like openings unite a semi-outdoor space with the rest of the neighbourhood. This space is designed as a paved open seating area with landscape features that remain in tune with both the activities of the café’s interiors as well as daily humdrum of the local life outside.

  • Terraces and balconies facilitate natural light and ventilation for the built form | Vietnam | Residential Architecture | STIRworld
    Terraces and balconies facilitate natural light and ventilation for the built form Image: Oki Hiroyuki
  • Small openings on the clay brick walls make the structural skin porous | Vietnam | Residential Architecture | STIRworld
    Small openings on the clay brick walls make the structural skin porous Image: Oki Hiroyuki

Overall designed as a porous shell embracing natural air and light – thanks to the multiple intricate openings on the walls, various courtyards, terraces and balconies - the architecture sets a pleasing example of how a building could settle harmoniously both in its functionality and relationship with the environment while being a complete anti-thesis to the archetypal image of what should rather be built in its place. 

Various other unconventional homes from Vietnam, previously featured on STIR include the ceramic dwelling Bat Trang House by VTN Architects, woven bamboo sticks-clad Floating Nest by Atelier NgNg, the cavernous Brick Cave by H&P Architects, and a green haven of concrete arches and latticed screen in Hoa’s House by H.2 Architects, to name a few.

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