I continue to be fascinated by Saigon’s modern architecture. We drove past even more of the narrow Miami deco looking buildings on the cyclos, and in a car the next day. Each house is unique with great color choices. You might see a Kelly green with pale pink neoclassical frescoe, or bright yellow with Tums green balconies and big silver railings. Beyond deco or modernism, there seem to be lots of neoclassical or French influences to these buildings — some having columns down the front, or a columned deck on top, or baroque bas relief flourishes above doors and windows. I see some Art Nouveau curves on some of the repeated balconies. Or Japanese style beams. Or Tetris-like grids down the front of a building playing with figure and ground. It’s as though people are just opening up coffee table books on architecture and combining elements.
Frustratingly, there aren’t many opportunities to photograph these buildings riding in a cyclo, and cars go too fast. We’ve been warned that thieves are especially quick here the drivers get nervous when your camera comes out. I will try again.
I find myself wondering about these buildings. Do the owners design them? Or the buildings or architects? Are there many design iterations before approval, or do people just wing it? Or this a society where everyone is really in touch with their creative side and can make great everyday design decisions, like Holland? In Amsterdam, it seems every cafe or shop has a wonderful quirky design sense of its own.
After I wrote the above, my questions were partially answered by a guide. People hire architects and designers, and basically choose the elements they want. According to Hue, this style of building exists all over Vietnam, and I’m looking forward to observing more of it.
Indeed, when Hue and the driver took us into the country, even tiny agricultural towns have charming, beautiful buildings with their own unique style. Most are much smaller than the urban versions but still narrow, and have similar colors and visual style. Just a little simpler. After a while we started seeing some repeated elements, as though there was a catalog for picking elements to configure a house. It was striking to see a small, immaculately clean, pink modern house; and a huge water buffalo grazing in the mud, three feet from the front door. And maybe a rice-paddy butting up to the left side. This was a common sight.
Incidentally, the phenomenon of the immaculately clean floor has been pervasive in both Bangkok and Saigon. In addition to the clean floors, there seems to be a much different use of space than in the west. For one thing, people tend to share space more. There is probably less space, so it is more communal. For another, there often seems to be less furniture in people’s personal space; they seem to lounge on the floor or on hammocks to relax. I’ll stop now, seeing as this is becoming "Summer’s Architectural Tour of Southeast Asia."