Vietnamese architect Hoang Thuc Hao has long been recognized in Vietnam for his commitment to vernacular architecture in rural communities. Born in Hanoi on 2 May 1971, Hoang Thuc Hao went on to study Civil Engineering at Viet Nam’s National University, where he continues to lecture on sustainable architecture and the Polytechnic University of Turin in Italy. His innovative work in marginalized communities has earned him international recognition.
What draws you to work in isolated rural areas?
Major parts of the earth, mostly ethnic minority areas, although culturally significant, have no architecture designed by professional architects. Governments have not really paid attention and lack professional architects interested in these remote regions. It is an especially common situation in Vietnam, a country that has suffered war after war throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Despite growing up in Hanoi, the countryside is my hometown and the birthplace of my parents. The childhood trips, the folktales passed on from generation to generation keep nurturing my love for rural areas and people, who receive less attention than urban populations.
And lastly, I desire to contribute to the construction and improvement of society through architecture, by developing both urban and rural areas in a balanced and harmonious way.
Why does your work focus on vernacular architecture?
Globalization has brought the world together but also has driven away from these disadvantaged communities and minority groups. Cities such as Bangkok, Dubai, Shenzhen have stereotypical and monotonous designs, lacking identity. The state and social organizations responsible for building urban and rural areas prioritize big, high speed, and low-cost projects, which only meet minimum needs, hardly fostering cultural settlements with their own identities.
Meanwhile, in most minority areas, people have inherited thousands of years of experience from their ancestors, making architecture by themselves. They retain enormous cultural resources, contributing to the diversity of humankind. This story I find reflected clearly in Vietnam, which, despite its 54 ethnic groups, each with its own unique, traditional style, still does not have worthy modern architecture.
I believe that “architecture is the flower of the earth”, that every land has a specific flower. I research and practice this profession in the hope of preserving the cultural heritage of my country while developing a culture of architectural diversity in the world.
How do you engage the communities with whom you work in your projects?
First of all, architects have to be perceptive about the specific and essential needs of local people. Secondly, we must understand the customs and traditions of each particular community.
We communicate and receive ideas from the community before starting the work so that people understand clearly the benefits of communal projects, which will bring happiness to their hometown, along with economic development and social cohesion. Our philosophy is best expressed as “Happiness architecture 1+1>2”. In other words, the integration of architects with core vernacular values generates a common voice that is greater than the sum of its parts.
In this way, the internal strength of the community and external social resources are spiritually and physically mobilized. Once the community is fully aware of the work’s purpose, they will devote their manpower and materials to the joint project.
How does the process of designing the architecture for use in rural communities differ from working in urban areas?
Village culture is unique, but also fragile due to the massive attack of "trendy" architectural styles, not only in Vietnam but all over the world. Rural architecture requires sophistication and perseverance, especially when dealing with cultural spaces and vernacular customs. My design process is characterized by an intimate rapport with all the intrinsic cultural geographic and political values of the community, which is directly implicated in all stages of the design process.