Low Cost House by
Vo Trong Nghia Architects


Vietnamese studio Vo Trong Nghia Architects plans to address the housing crisis in Vietnam by introducing modular homes that use cheap local materials and are easy to assemble.

Low Cost House by Vo Trong Nghia

Housing areas in the country have been expanding at a rapid pace over the last ten years but according to the architects many families still live in houses that have less than ten square metres in floor area.

Low Cost House by Vo Trong Nghia

"The project started as voluntary work, responding to the serious housing issue for low income classes in Vietnam," Vo Trong Nghia Architects told Dezeen. "We inspected Mekong Delta Area, where the housing problems for the poor are very serious."

Low Cost House by Vo Trong Nghia

The architects came up with a concept for a house with a lightweight steel structure, before building full-size prototypes of a house and office with layered walls of corrugated polycarbonate and bamboo.

Low Cost House by Vo Trong Nghia

"If we make the house with concrete and bricks, which is the most typical structure in south-east Asia, it can be very dangerous even though the house itself is strong, just because of the soft and weak condition of the ground," said the architects. "So we decided to design a lightweight structure within a squeezed budget."

Low Cost House by Vo Trong Nghia

On the assumption that bathroom and kitchen facilities will be located outside, the buildings are designed as single rooms where living, sleeping and dining areas are divisible through changes in the floor level or by drawing curtains.

Low Cost House by Vo Trong Nghia

Beds fold down from the side walls and can also be used as seating areas and each residence can be extended to allow extra room for growing families.

Low Cost House by Vo Trong Nghia

To reduce construction costs, residents are invited to contribute to the construction process, plus to reduce living costs each house will be equipped with natural ventilation systems and rainwater harvesting facilities.

Low Cost House by Vo Trong Nghia

Now they've built the prototypes, the architects plan to develop the design to make it even more affordable. "Another possibility is to utilise cheap local materials such as coconuts leaves for walls or roof," said the architects, "and we will try to improve and enhance the indoor environment more, without using a power supply."

Low Cost House by Vo Trong Nghia

"Some of our friends have already shown their interest to apply this prototype as a voluntary investment," they added. "We are trying to find out the way to realize it."

Low Cost House by Vo Trong Nghia

This isn't the first sustainable architecture project by Vo Trong Nghia Architects. Other projects we've featured include a house with a vertical garden and a school with sheltered open-air corridors.

Low Cost House by Vo Trong Nghia

We've also interviewed principal architect Vo Trong Nghia about his plans to reduce the energy crisis in both residential and public buildings. See all our stories about Vo Trong Nghia Architects.

Low Cost House by Vo Trong Nghia

Photography is by Hiroyuki Oki.

Low Cost House by Vo Trong Nghia

Here's a project description from Vo Trong Nghia:

According to the statistics, the quantity of total housing area in Vietnam has been increased tenfold in the last decade. However, many families are still living in very small houses, some of which are less than 10 square meters. It is an important issue for Vietnam to provide houses for low-income classes.

Low Cost House by Vo Trong Nghia

The aim of this project is to propose a prototype house for low-income classes in the Mekong Delta area. By minimizing the functions of the house and using low cost materials throughout, the construction cost of a house can be brought down to as little as about 3200USD. Living expenses will also be reduced by using natural resources and energies.

Low Cost House by Vo Trong Nghia

Above: site plan - click above for larger image

Two prototypes were experimentally constructed in Dong Nai province, on the construction site of a Kindergarten project designed by Vo Trong Nghia Architects. The first house, with a floor area of 22.5 square meters, was designed as a model home, the second, measuring 18 square meters, was designed as a site office for the Kindergarten, showing the flexibility of this prototype.

Low Cost House by Vo Trong Nghia

Above: house floor plan - click above for larger image

On the assumption that the bathroom and kitchen are placed outside and shared with several families, the house has minimum space for living, eating and sleeping. The plan was designed to be adjustable toward the longitudinal direction, allowing for future expansion of family members and functions. Its interior is a simple one-room space, articulated by curtains and differences in level of the floor. The floor rises higher in part, creating minimum furniture such as a desk.

Low Cost House by Vo Trong Nghia

Above: house front elevation - click above for larger image

The other distinctive feature is the installation of folding beds, which allow the dwellers to sit on the floor during the day. These beds can also be transformed into sofas if required.

Low Cost House by Vo Trong Nghia

Above: house rear elevation - click above for larger image

In order to reduce the construction cost, dwellers are encouraged to participate in the construction process. The structure of the prototype house is, therefore, a lightweight steel frame, which is easy to assemble without the use of machines, nor special techniques. Considering the recyclability of materials, wet joints are avoided as possible. The roof is supported by truss-beams composed of steel bars, which minimize steel material and give ideal pitch for waterproofing.

Low Cost House by Vo Trong Nghia

Above: office floor plan - click above for larger image

The envelope of the house is composed of a polycarbonate panel wall and corrugated FRP panel roof, and bamboo louvers are set inside of it. Both materials are available everywhere in Vietnam and are cheap, light and replaceable. Bamboo is rapid-growing and therefore the eco-friendly material.

Low Cost House by Vo Trong Nghia

Above: office front elevation - click above for larger image

Translucent envelope and bamboo louvers filter harsh direct sunshine in the tropical climate. The interior is filled with diffused light and reduces the need for artificial lighting, dramatically reducing electricity consumption. There is also a gap between the roof and the wall, which has the function of evacuating the hot air. As the whole space is naturally ventilated there is no need for an air conditioner to be installed in this house. A pent roof was designed to collect rain water for daily use in the dry season. Utilizing blessings of nature, dwellers can save great amount of energies, resources and therefore money.

Low Cost House by Vo Trong Nghia

Above: office rear elevation - click above for larger image

Project Name: Low Cost House
Location: Dong Nai Province, Vietnam
Competion: 08/2012
Architect Firm: Vo Trong Nghia Architects
Principal architect’s Name: Vo Trong Nghia, Masaaki Iwamoto
Architect’s Name: Kosuke Nishijima
Contractor: Wind and Water House JSC
Client: Wind and Water House JSC
Floor area Floor.1: 22.5m2, Floor.2: 18m2

  • Very interesting project. Less is more – a modern clasical (true sometimes) sentence. Nice use of materials of the zone and good technical solutions. Big-famous-super-star architects around the world take note.

  • Colonel Pancake

    Unlike most pie-in-the-sky “pro bono” fantasies which are often just egotistic follies for architects’ delusions, the thought and care that went into this design is quite tangible in its humane beauty and reverence for traditional vernacular living, and worthy of much applause. If I didn’t live in the north-east, I’d be eager to live in one for a time just to see how well it functions.

  • nat

    I’m not an expert on Vietnamese architecture, but I like this idea and I hope it will work.

  • I like it but

    I like it but since cost is such an issue, it would be nice to have an idea of it related to the median income of those people for whom these kind of houses are being designed.

  • mindgame

    Excellent project!

  • Dan Brill

    Profound, simple and genius.

  • johan

    I agree with the other comments – it’s a very beautiful project strictly on an aesthetic/formal level. It is somehow an interpretation of the “Lacaton & Vassal approach” with a concrete foundation rather than a concrete house underneath.

    However, there are several critical aspects of the project. First of all, the structure is pretty much a greenhouse with a few interior bamboo panels for shading. The interior climate will probably not be comfortable – too hot during the day and too cold during the night.

    Furthermore, the building is compromised of steel, concrete and polycarbonate with a little bamboo to make it relate to the context. This is not a “low-cost” way to build – and the co2-footprint is ridiculous for such a typology. The Vietnamese vernacular tradition offers both cheaper and more sustainable solutions that offer better climatic conditions.

    The building is beautiful regardless.

  • Duong

    In Vietnam, land price is much more of an issue to worry about. For construction cost, it will be cheaper to build one story building by mortar and bricks. Beautiful, yes. Realistic in Vietnam, no. For fun, yes. For family living, no.

  • Leyla

    Though I’m a fan, I also think polycarbonate would make the interiors too hot.

    • tik

      I agree, and I wonder… how to cope with hot sunshine?

  • arianadourre

    Even though the design is beautiful and a lot of thought has been put into the whole process, as a family unit, wouldn’t the visibility of interior activities to the outside bother the inhabitants?

  • tadung

    I agree with Duong’s opinion. This project is just for name branding. Playing with bamboo is just a fashion. Its not a real architecture!

  • Yes, its a beautiful concept but it appeals to the aesthetic of the rich and their longing for “simplicity in life”. Why not build the entire structure with bamboo? Why these single family houses instead of more compacted solutions that would avoid high costs for infrastructure?

  • Poor people or low income classes don’t need to take a shower and take a s**t? Were are the bathrooms and toilets?

  • Orr Niv

    Having worked for a 6 months with a prominent NGO in Vietnam building low cost housing I can tell you that I’ve tried to instigate this type of approach during my entire tenure there. The main obstacle is not materials, good will, energy or indeed money, but the cultural preference for concrete and bricks over bamboo and lightweight materials. Vietnam is rapidly developing and the local view of progress is a move to more permanent housing, anything lightweight and seemingly fragile is considered poor, and a family’s home is a symbol of its status and wealth in the community. Therefore the problem with a scheme such as this, according to my understanding, is finding the people to give it to – because most rural families will not accept a house such as this thinking it below them.

    Bricks, the most commonly used material in Vietnam are extremely energy intensive and polluting! A viable alternative is of paramount importance and most programs are focusing on the distribution and local production of concrete blocks as a less environmentally damaging alternative. Bamboo, despite having much better environmental credentials simply wont float culturally.

    This is a particular shame as one of the biggest challenges facing Vietnam now and into the future with climate change and rising sea levels is disaster resistance and storm survival. Bamboo and steel with their tensile strength are much better suited to this and cheaper to construct buildings that will withstand these challenges than bricks and concrete. None the less the psychological protection offered by heavier materials rules these parts and despite all my efforts to try to change the attitudes in my organisation I got nowhere.

    All in all a valiant attempt by Vo Trong Nghia but the proof will be in the pudding, if they manage to put this into production I would be surprised and elated. In Vietnam it is easy to sprout new things in from the top down (due to the government structure and mass organisations) – it has been my thinking that instead a bottom up approach of a local, grassroots design brought from within the community to address it’s most pressing challenges would be much more effective and better embraced.

    • Airborne

      There is much truth in your report. Unfortunately the local production of concrete blocks has stalled. Two of the five producers have ceased to exist and another one is for sale. The remaining two factories have reduced the production to meet the small demand for the bricks.

      The introduction of unburned concrete bricks was a government supported program. However because of the fact that the bricks are a little heavier than the popular burned hollow bricks it did not convince the population to build stronger, climate resisting and energy-saving houses. Size seems to be the most important feature of a dwelling in Vietnam.

  • J.Z.

    As most people already addressed the climatic and social attitudes of the context, my concern is storage. All spaces generally look nice with minimal stuff and neat furnishings. But in reality, real people amass a lot of random stuff. Especially when you don’t have a lot, you collect a lot of odd pieces in hope that one day they would be useful. So no way would a lower class be able to live out this kind of “clean” aesthetic in a simple house like this.

  • It seems to be a good idea and good project.

  • These are really nice pictures and plans. I didn’t know too much about Vietnamese architecture but hope many people will love it.

  • RP2504


  • ivanguar

    How shameless calling this affordable housing. These are just temporary shelters, and not housing. You use a temporary shelter for a very limited amount of time till you can move to a real house, affordable or not. An affordable house is not a shelter. It’s obvious that the architects who designed these houses are middle class who believe that people without money are sub humans who deserve to live in something that truly doesn’t even qualify as a shoe box.

  • e

    Ventilation is the biggest need in the tropics. A polycarbonate box is not ideal.