The Korean Housing Association

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Journal of the Korean Housing Association - Vol. 30 , No. 4

[ Article ]
journal of the korean housing association - Vol. 30, No. 4, pp. 45-53
Abbreviation: J Korean Hous Assoc
ISSN: 2234-3571 (Print) 2234-2257 (Online)
Print publication date 25 Aug 2019
Received 14 May 2019 Revised 05 Aug 2019 Accepted 12 Aug 2019

Transitional Characteristics of Ancient Vietnamese Housing in Mekong Delta
Pham, Phi-Phuong* ; Vo, ThiLe-Thi** ; Oh, Se-Gyu***

베트남 메콩지역 고대의 주거의 변천특성
핌피프영* ; 우이려티** ; 오세규***
*정회원(주저자), 전남대학교, 박사과정
**정회원, 베트남, 미엔 타이 건설대학 (Mien Tay Construction University) 건축학과 교사
***정회원(교신저자), 전남대학교 건축공학과 교수
Correspondence to : Se-Gyu Oh, Department of Architecture, Chonnam National University, 77 Yongbong-ro, Buk-ku, Gwangju, 61186, Korea. E-mail:


The aim of this paper is to explore the transition in the architectural characteristics of the ancient Vietnamese housing in Mekong Delta, in Southern Vietnam from 1858 to 1945. For this purpose, this study selects six ancient houses to determine the architectural characteristics that reveal the relationship between society and architecture during this period. Then, these ancient houses’ characteristics are analyzed based on six factors which are settlement characteristics, planning scheme, facade, structure, material, and interior decoration to show the transition in their architectural style. Six factors of ancient houses are surveyed by three methods: using of the electronic distance meter to determine the size of houses, taking photos and drawing of the houses to analysis the architectural characteristics and interviewing the landlord to get information about ancient houses. As the results, the study explored the difference in the ancient houses style which is strongly affected both by French style to their facade and Chinese style to their interior decoration, but the spatial structure is still remained to Vietnamese people. In conclusion, the characteristics of selected houses should be considered in detail as a reference to the current design goals.

Keywords: Ancient House, Transition in Architectural Characteristics, Chinese and French Influences
키워드: 고대의 집, 건축 특성에 변천, 중국과 프랑스의 영향

I. Introduction

Mekong Delta is located on the lower region in Southern Vietnam and at the fork of the Pacific Ocean, is also known as the largest agricultural production area of Vietnam and the Southeast Asian country (Tran & Nguyen, 2016). In fact, Mekong Delta has an important position with a favorable condition to attract various settlers from many countries for trading (Stark, 1998). Chinese, Indian, and Western people have immigrated to this region in the earliest period of area formation. They have lived in harmony with local people including Vietnamese, Khmer, and Cham. Hence, there has been the cultural interchanges between Vietnamese and other people in Mekong Delta in all spheres, such as: making a living, lifestyle, clothing, houses, transportation, education, play and entertainment, and maintaining health (Elliott, 2006).

According to the previous study, there is about 70 percent of ancient houses built from the 19th century to the early 20th in the Central and Southern Vietnam, which has contained the socio-cultural information of each region (Tran, 2002). Also, the ancient houses were built in response to the inhabitants’ needs, and reflect lifestyle of the locals (Le & Park 2011). Therefore, this research was conducted based on the various factors like historical background, culture, and society, it is a way to conserve the value of architectural and cultural features (Soflaei, Shokouhian, & Zhu, 2017).

Mekong Delta especially attracted attention by its ancient houses because of the harmonious combination of Eastern and Western culture. This incorporation has known as a architectural style in house design in the 19th century in Vietnam, particularly in the Southern Vietnam, which has represented the cultural interchange between local and another culture. According to the governmental survey, there are 500 ancient houses in Mekong Delta which built 85 years ago. However, it is difficult to preserve these houses in the modern period (Bui, 2012). Because of time pressure and the omission of the current conservation, many ancient houses have been canceled or degraded and replaced by new one. The other ancient houses were added new functions for tourism. That substitution process is still going on and it is very difficult for preserving the original texture. On the other hand, some ancient houses have been preserved and transferred to its origin texture until now. So, it is a responsibility to maintain them for future generations.

For this reason, the study selects ancient houses that maintain the original features of typical local architecture of this period to analyze their architectural characteristics. This reflects the most precise reality of the residential architecture of locals with simultaneous changing cultural context.

1. The historical origin of the Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta of Vietnam was an integral part of the Khmer empire (Popkin, 1979). Since the early 17th century, some Vietnamese group from the North moved into this region, at the same time when the Chinese refugees fled to escape an oppressive feudal regime, the Qing Dynasty to reach there (Mcleod & Nguyen, 2001). By the late 1880s, French controlled Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, in there Southern Vietnam (including Mekong Delta) named Cochinchina and became one of the important economic centers of French Indochina.(Bradley, 2002).

After many changes, Mekong Delta is called “Nine Dragon’s River Delta” (Mcleod & Nguyen, 2001), since Mekong River derived from Phnom Penh, whose part divide into nine-branches when it flows through the Southern territory before reaching the South China Sea. Hence, the Mekong Delta of Vietnam has existed a dense river system, which creates a good condition for attracting more immigrants and developing agriculture.

2. Social and cultural life in Mekong Delta

Mekong Delta has been known as an ancient, diverse and vital cultural area where many eastern and western values have co-existed (Taylor, 2001), and an open community does not discriminate against strangers or newcomers (Tran & Nguyen, 2016), so this place has widened economic and cultural communicative relation over many distinct historical eras. Hence, the settlers are extremely hospitable towards all newcomers or other ethnic which create a cultural exchange of openness and diffidence towards tradition (Taylor, 2001).

The intersection of different cultures, specially reveals in architecture, which has become one of the unique features undoubtedly in the residential architecture since that time even until now. Chinese and Western styles are introduced into Vietnam and themselves partially has contributed to renovation architecture from traditional to modern that is a new look of harmonious combination. In fact, the ancient house in Mekong Delta originated from the traditional house in Central Vietnam (Tran, 2002). However, moving into the Mekong Delta, local people have changed the architectural structure and form to adapt to the natural condition and lifestyle.

In fact, Chinese traders came to this area for trading and they gathered together in this region, progressively their culture impacted the local people. That has formed the cultural exchange between Vietnamese and Chinese groups in architecture.

Then, during the French domination of Vietnam, French provided benefits for Vietnamese society such as the construction of the infrastructure, improvement of education, housing building, etc. (Tran & Nguyen, 2016). Hence, Vietnam’s socio-culture, especially in the Mekong Delta has been enlarged and renovated continuously over time opening a transition period of architecture.

II. Research Scope and Method
1. Research scope

This study selected six ancient houses, built from 1858 to 1945, in three provinces in Mekong Delta, Vietnam, as representative samples <Figure 1>.

Figure 1. 
(a) Mekong Delta Map, (b) Ancient House Location in Mekong Delta

The selected samples have threegeneral features: built from 1858 to 1945, area over 200 square meter, and maintaining the original house without modifications and adding new parts <Table 1>.

Table 1. 
Survey on Ancient House in Mekong Delta
Location Year of built Area (m2) House owner
Dong Thap 1858 186.88 House of Mr.Nam
1895 258 Huynh Thuy Le house
Tien Giang 1929-1931 212.94 House of Mr. Vo
1929 210.08 House of Mrs.Tuyen
Vinh Long 1885 134.6 Cai Cuong House
1930 314.88 House of Mrs.Phan

2. Research method

Based on the construction timeline, six houses of this survey are classified into the various aspects of architecture and decoration to indicate visibly the exotic elements. That is coexisting of Chinese and Western style with the traditional element in the same space. Each house type should be broken down into smaller categories which are generally referred to as decomposition to figure out the architectural transition details in the design shown in <Figure 2>. And then, these categories are represented the specified hierarchy in which the detail of each house is analyzed from outside to the inside, especially the first top priority in planning scheme characteristics.

Figure 2. 
The Illustration of Research Methodology

From February 2017, the data of study was collected by three sequential methods: an electronic distancing meter to measure between two sides of the building (wall length, building height, door width, etc.), usage of photogrammetry techniques to catch building details, exterior, and interior space, and interview the landlords. The surveyed data of these houses are drawn by two-dimensional projecting each side of the house with Autocad <Figure 3>.

Figure 3. 
Photo of Survey

III. General characteristics and analyses of ancient house in Mekong Delta

By choosing six houses from the different places in Mekong Delta, the research will demonstrate analysis under six components to show the architectural and decorative style transition happening among the ancient houses. General characteristics among the selected samples are the location and layout of settlement such as front and back yard, garden, in order to harmonize with nature.

1. Ancient house in Dong Thap province

Dong Thap is one of thirteen provinces in Mekong Delta and direction to the north of Mekong river <Figure 4>. It was a newly formed area in the 17th century. Under the Nguyen Lords, many Chinese immigrated to this region for trading, then they settled down to their life at that time. Sa Dec is known as the most crowded trading center and a wealthy area of this province as well as the Mekong Delta, where a large number of merchants have gathered a crowd. They own property and the vast houses to show off their richness.

Figure 4. 
(a) Dong Thap Province Location in Mekong Delta, (b) Sa Dec district location

The first two ancient houses, built before 1900, are located in Sa Dec town. These houses keep the cultural interchange through their architectural characteristics, which is analysed following <Table 2> and <Table 3>.

Table 2. 
Information, Visuals and Analysis about the House of Mr. Nam

Table 3. 
Information, Visuals and Analysis about Huynh Thuy Le’s House

  • 1) Ancient house of Mr. Nam in Sa Dec town <Table 2>
  • 2) Huynh Thuy Le ancient house in Sa Dec town

Huynh Thuy Le ancient house was built in 1895, and situated in the bank of Tien River. This house has been well-known with a mixture of Southern Vietnamese, Chinese style, especially the facade in the French style <Table 3>.

2. Ancient house in Tien Giang province

With a favorable location, Tien Giang is known for its historical sites, preserving many ancient buildings such as a pagoda, houses which show the harmonious fusion of Asian and European architectural styles.

The second two houses are located in two different places in Tien Giang province-Cai Be and Go Cong town <Figure 5>. These two cases also obviously show the relation between architecture and culture through its interior decoration. The analysis is presented in <Table 4> and <Table 5>.

Figure 5. 
(a) Tien Giang Province Location in Mekong Delta; (b) Cai Be, Go Cong Town Location

Table 4. 
Information, Visuals and Analysis about Mr. Vo’s House

Table 5. 
Information, Visuals and Analysis about Mr. Tuyen’s House

  • 1) Ancient house of Mr.Vo in Cai Be town <Table 4>
  • 2) Ancient house of Mr.Tuyen in Go Cong town <Table 5>
3. Ancient house in Vinh Long province

Vinh Long is situated between the Tien and the Hau rivers and the terrain is quite flat <Figure 6>. So Vinh Long is known as the city of water with the complex network of rivers and canals which make transportation convenient. Because of the favorable geographical location, many ethnics have immigrated to Vinh Long and created a cultural exchange which is characterized by interchanges between Vietnamese and other people in the region in all aspects such as lifestyle, clothing, houses and etc.

Figure 6. 
(a) Vinh Long Province Location in Mekong Delta, (b) Long Ho District Location

It can be seen in <Tables 6, 7> the ancient house style in Vinh Long is similar to the ones mentioned above. Firstly, the house layout also follows the traditional plan of 3, 5 or 10 bays (Nguyen & Kobayashi, 2014). The spatial structure is divided into two sections: subspaces and main-space, the main space contains the worship space and living room where there is a luxury decoration in Chinese furniture. While the facade is decorated in French style with column and patterns.

Table 6. 
Information, Visuals and Analysis about Mr. Phan’s House

Table 7. 
Information, Visual and Analysis about Cai Cuong’s House

  • 1) Ancient house of Mr. Phan in Long Ho’s Phuoc Hau Commune <Table 6>
  • 2) Cai Cuong ancient house in Long Ho’s Binh Hoa Phuoc Commune <Table 7>

IV. Discussion
1. General characteristics of ancient house

The objective of this study is to analyze and explain the transition happening in the architecture and decoration style of the ancient houses in Mekong delta until before 1945. As an important characteristic of architecture in Mekong Delta, housing is highlighted by the extrovert form. These houses originate from Central Vietnam house style that is changed in exterior and interior architectural characteristics to adapt to the natural condition in Mekong Delta, such as the spatial organization that is characterized by more open spatial layout, the living room is larger, more windows and doors. The prayer area is considered as the heart and is placed at the center of the house. The form of the inner spatial structure is not much different from the traditional houses in central Vietnam. All of these becomes a permanent principle in the planning scheme of the house in Mekong Delta.

Besides, using wood is maintained from the Central Vietnam traditional houses. However. there is diversification of building material of houses, in Mekong Delta. It can be categorized as wooden structure, brick for the foundation and the rest of the elements is made of wood as well. Moreover, it is important to mention that during French colonial rule, there are many new types of building materials used in construction such as concrete, steel, etc, which create a large replacement of constructive material in this period.

2. Chinese style applied in the interior decoration

The lifestyle in Mekong Delta is clear regional and it became a part of the residential community in which individuals have lived in harmony with the natural condition and respected to immigrants. According to the historical records, Chinese culture deeply affected to Vietnamese and combined the indigenous culture in order to form the cultural interchange which was revealed the inner decoration style of housing in Mekong Delta. The decoration, furniture in the main space are copied from the Chinese patterns and made elaborately and meticulously by the local artisans such as handle, the gilded wood panel marked (calligraphy art, ink painting) towards a solemn space. This reflects the historical culture, and the thinking of locals. Since, the Vietnamese architectural style and estheticism become richer, more refined to shape a unique style of housing in Mekong Delta.

3. Western style applied in the facade decoration

During the ruling of French in Vietnam, they attempted to change the whole lifestyle and culture of the Vietnamese. As a result, the performance of the architectural style in this period is deeply affected by Western-style, especially the ancient house style in Mekong Delta. Many house facades are decorated by Western-style to emphasize the modern characteristics. Considerably, these houses still observe their origin with the typical sloping roof of Asian architecture, but main facades cover with the complex details of Western-style. In contrast, the houses are not affected by Western style, the facade only reveals the characteristics of roof, column, and platform that tends to be simplicity <Table 8>.

Table 8. 
The Change in Facade Form of Ancient House

Meanwhile, the planning scheme has changed little in arrangement, house layout still follow the traditional plan of 3 bays <Table 3> or 10 bays <Table 6>. However, the size of the prayer area gradually decreases and is integrated into the living room, and there is a division of sleeping area which is split off into a freestanding room. Furthermore, some new materials are provided by France such as concrete for the column, glass for window. The rest of the elements is a brick for wall and foundation and wood for structure.

This emerging architectural trend in house style in Mekong Delta is a flexible combination of changes in the socio-cultural. In this case, it is imaged that the envelopment of housing in Mekong Delta is as the coat which is produced in Western-style <Tables 3, 5, 6 and 7>. Four examples in this research tried to describe the change in facade comparison to the other houses.

Analysis of architectural characteristics of six ancient houses in Mekong Delta shows that housing in Mekong Delta had a change in architectural characteristics to adapt to new socio-culture which is considered the cultural interchange between Vietnamese, Chinese and the Western style in Mekong Delta. That create a unique style in these kind houses <Figure 7>. In general, the architectural characteristics of ancient houses are summarized in <Table 9>.

Figure 7. 
Change in Architectural Characteristics of Housing in Mekong Delta

Table 9. 
Summary of the Ancient House’s Characteristics
General characteristics of ancient house in Mekong Delta
Houses is located next to the road and the river in a way to benefits by natural condition.
The layout of ancient house is composed hedge and gate, the main house, outhouse, front and back yard, and garden. The layout highlights the harmony with nature and avoid the loss of trees.
Planning Scheme
All houses have one-floor, the rectangle-shaped house plan with a horizontal emphasis contains the living room, worshiping area and sleeping area. At the front of houses has a long veranda to connect between inside house and the environment outside. Also, the prayer space is situated in the center of the house
Facade The low horizontal form is characterized for the houses which are not affected by the Western-style.
While these houses are affected by French decorating with the renaissance features, there is emphasizing to the vertical form.
The wide door with holes-which are carved in different shapes for air circulation and getting the light are directly opened to nature. Large windows open in such a way to receive the wind and sun. The height of the building is low while the height of the roof is large.
Structure and
material use
The wood structure is installed in the stone or clay tile slab foundation and support the complex roof system.
Timber roof truss with demountable structural joints is applied popularly.
The interior
Many details are carved in a sophisticated way.
Especially, the door systems are carved with various patterns.
The interior space is decorated with wood furniture and details in Chinese style.

V. Conclusion

The analysis of architectural characteristics on these Vietnamese ancient houses in the Mekong Delta realize that the architectural transition is evident cultural interchange. The local architecture has to change itself to react flexibly to environmental conditions and socio-cultural at that moment. These characteristics of ancient houses can be listed as follow:

- House is based on a long linear form to respond to the climate in which it is located.

- The spatial structure have gradually changed such as the private space is formed, and prayer space is integrated into living room to answer more to the need social criteria.

- The facade is harmonically combined between sloped tiled roof and columns, arches and details in Western-style.

- The interior space is decorated by a door system, carved with various patterns to create the holes for ventilation.

-The material used is diverse, especially local material.

It can be concluded that, the data obtained from this study show the characteristics of ancient houses in Mekong Delta which are affected by changing social-cultural. Nowadays, the population increases and residential needs are more than ever. Hence, the flexible feature to accept a new style of ancient houses should be considered as an important precept in housing design in Mekong Delta. The architects, urbanites, who have an important role in the construction industry and great responsibility in the conservation of architectural value, should maintain these characteristics of the ancient houses to transfer to the next generation.

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