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Vietnam’s long history of foreign invasions has left a legacy in the form of diverse architectural styles found throughout the country. Indigenous architecture in the shape of “tube houses” and single-story pagodas exist alongside buildings that reveal foreign influences. The ancient buildings of the central coast indicate the Cham influence, while Chinese elements are reflected in the pagodas, especially in Hanoi and Hue. French influence is pervasive in the colonial buildings.


Vietnamese pagodas are generally single-story buildings, resting on wooden pillars that support a complex cantilevered structure of timber beams, surmounted by a tiled roof with upswept eaves. The interior consists of a front hall, a central hall, and the main altar hall, usually arranged in ascending levels. Most pagodas have a sacred pond, a bell tower, and a garden. There is elaborate use of symbolism, especially including several Chinese characters.

The Thay Pagoda in Hanoi rests on a stone platform supporting ironwood columns that carry the entire weight of the building. The low, steep-pitched roof features elaborate upswept eaves with dragon finials. Turned wooden grills admit a flow of fresh air.

One Pillar Pagoda in Hanoi was originally built on a single wooden pillar set in a pond, and designed to resemble a lotus flower. Partially burned in 1954, it now rests on a concrete pillar. Fire has long been a hazard for wooden pagodas.

The Tran Quoc Pagoda in Hanoi is an eminent example of a single- story pagoda built around many brick stupas. Considered to be  Vietnam’s oldest pagoda, it was built by Emperor Ly Nam De in the 6th century AD on the banks of the Red River, but due to heavy erosion, the pagoda was shifted to its present site, Ho Tay

Thanh long or dragon is associated in both Vietnamese and Chinese mythology with imperial power, prosperity, longevity, and good fortune. Dragon motifs are used extensively to decorate both pagodas and temples.

Multi-tiered pagodas are derived from Chinese tradition. They are usually pointed at the top, and the roofs are made of terracotta tiles.

Royal Citadels

Awe-inspiring and imposing, Vietnamese citadels were constructed to provide defense against both physical and spiritual attack. This was achieved by assuming Chinese characteristics of huge, square stone walls topped by battlements, along with elements of feng shui. Military architecture under French influence gave rise to citadels with massive, thick walls, ringed by moats, punctuated by towers, with crenellated ramparts and pentagonal bastions.

The Ngo Mon Gate of Hue Citadel, made of thick stone walls and in accordance with the principles of feng shui, has five entrances. The central way, used solely by the emperor, is flanked by openings for mandarins of the royal court.

Hien Nhon Gate at Hue Citadel is a fine example of Sino-Viet decorative elements combined with French military genius. This Chinese gate has elaborate turrets, as well as two-story platforms to provide vantage points for soldiers.

French Architecture

The capital of French Indochina in the 19th century, Hanoi was transformed with the construction of villas in French provincial style, administrative buildings emulating Parisian styles, and even Franco-Gothic structures such as Hanoi Cathedral.

Hanoi’s State Guest House, once the residence of the French governor, is a beautiful, restored French-Colonial building, with  an elaborately upswept wrought- iron entrance.

The Presidential Palace in Hanoi is a perfect example of the French-Colonial style, with a grand staircase, wrought-iron gates, Belle Époque filigree work, and colonnades. Built between 1900 and 1906, it is flanked by extensive gardens and orchards.

Tube Architecture and its Present Adaptation

First built during the Later Le Dynasty (1428–1788), “tube houses” can be as little as 6.5 ft (2 m) wide, but up to 262 ft (80 m) deep. Behind the shopfront are work areas, courtyards, and living rooms. Today, these houses have soared to create tall, thin “rocket buildings,” still limited in their ground area by the original land deeds.

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