Vietnam’s cities carry the architectural traces of the many phases of its history. The city of Hue, capital of the Nguyen dynasty, features the Citadel and other imperial structures, such as the mausolea of former emperors.
In 1993 UNESCO designated the Citadel and other imperial sites as a part of their World Heritage List and have subsequently begun renovations to repair the extensive damage they received in the 1968 Tet Offensive. The French left behind an impressive legacy of colonial architecture, particularly in Hanoi, Hue, and Saigon. Colonial authorities meticulously planned these cities, creating wide, tree-covered avenues that were lined with impressive public buildings and private homes. Many of these structures still serve as government offices and private residences. Following the division of the country in 1954, South Vietnam saw an increase in functional American-style buildings, while North Vietnam’s Eastern Bloc allies contributed to the construction of massive concrete dormitory housing. The 1990s brought an array of new architectural styles in the cities as people tore down houses that had for years been neglected and constructed new ones, normally of brick and mortar. New construction has removed some of the colonial flavor of the major cities.
City residents often congregate to sit and relax at all hours of the day in parks, cafes, or on the street side. The busiest locations during the day are the markets where people buy fresh meat, produce, and other essentials. Religious structures such as Christian churches, Buddhist temples, and spirit shrines are often crowded to capacity on worship days. Almost all lowland communities have structures dedicated to the war and revolution. These range in size from a large monument for war dead in Hanoi to the numerous cemeteries and cenotaphs for the war dead in towns and villages across the nation. These sites only commemorate those who fought for the victorious north, leaving those who served the south officially uncommemorated.
Vietnamese rural villages
Vietnamese rural villages feature a variety of architectural styles. Village residents in lowland river deltas usually live in family compounds that feature one or more rectangular-shaped houses made of brick and mortar. Compounds often have large open areas on the ground for drying rice. Village homes are normally built extremely close to each other, creating nuclear or semi-nuclear settlements surrounded by agricultural fields. Historically, villages planted dense stands of bamboo around their communities to define their boundaries and protect them from trespassers, though these are disappearing. In poor areas, such as in the central provinces of Nghe An and Quang Binh, many families still live in thatched houses.
Regardless of their type, the main entrance to most homes is in the center of the long side, directly before the family ancestral altar. Kitchens, regarded as women’s spaces, are on the side. Lowland villages have a variety of sacred spaces, such as Buddhist temples, spirit shrines, lineage halls, and the communal house (a sacred structure that houses the village guardian spirit’s altar). These spaces normally have behavioral restrictions such as prohibitions against entry while in a polluted state to protect their sacredness. Highland minority groups often live in either thatched houses or in houses raised on stilts. Many of these houses maintain discrete spaces defined by age or gender.
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