Back Society » Architecture » The Beauty of Saigon's Mid-Century Shophouses via Street Sketches

The Beauty of Saigon's Mid-Century Shophouses via Street Sketches

What was Vietnamese architecture after colonialism?

Rather than continuing colonial architecture or redoing traditional architecture, modernist architecture was the next step for Vietnamese culture in the middle of the 20th century. This shift is most evident when looking at mid-century shophouses.

Rather than hiring architects, Vietnamese people designed, experimented and enriched modernist architecture with a distinctive taste that isn’t seen elsewhere.

The surviving rows of modernist shophouses in Saigon reflect their mixed-use features and the vibrancy of urban life here. From the organic hẻm neighborhoods in Binh Thanh District to the neatly planned blocks of District 1, these shophouses share a unique Vietnamese identity.  Vietnamese homeowners have painted over the familiar shopfront facades with their own artistic imprints.

The ground floor is oftentimes used for commercial purposes, which connects intimately to life in the neighborhood. Above are up to three floors of living space, always with a loggia extruding out to the street. Last but not least, the top is usually turned into a stylized pergola made of concrete that is sometimes a purely sculptural piece.  

Those are the basics, but the space to design on top of them is endless. From the intense rows of louvers intersecting with one another in various patterns to the abstracted planters hung over the facades towards the streets, architectural elements went beyond their functional roles to bear upon the shapes of an artistic quality required by the owners. And within this quality is substantial and sensitive use of sun shading elements and rhythmic intensity of how parts are put together.

Over a period of 20 years, modernist shophouses were the most common design choice throughout southern Vietnam. It reflects common people's architectural taste and thus forms part of their identity.

Almost seven decades since the emergence of modernist Vietnamese architecture, mid-century shophouses in Saigon remain a familiar part of the urban landscape. We pass them every day, yet they are paradoxically distanced, to the point of being ignored. Everyone seems to realize their presence, but no one seems to know about them. Despite being among the most obvious clichés of Saigon, modernist shophouses much neglected.

Historically speaking, the city is in fact a living reservoir of modernist heritage. It is evidence of a culture’s transformative energy to have adopted a new architectural style with authenticity and identity.

Observations via these sketches by landscape architect Camille Pinson reminds us to pay attention to these longtime "members" of Saigon.

Related Articles

in Architecture

Decoding the Language of Vietnamese Modernist Architecture

There is a common confusion between Vietnamese modernism and international modernism that doesn't include vernacular modernist structures in the historical discourse.

Michael Tatarski

in Architecture

From Nature, Vietnam Slowly Forges Its Own Brand of Contemporary Architecture

When it comes to architecture in Saigon, a tiny fraction of buildings receive the vast majority of attention.

Michael Tatarski

in Architecture

New Book Offers Deep Dive Into Vietnam's Connection With Modernist Architecture

Vietnamese architecture fans, add this to your bookshelf.

in Saigon

Saigon Commences $11.4m Makeover of Ton Duc Thang Museum

The project is expected to last three years.

in Architecture

The Aesthetic Yet Functional Role of Shade in the Genome of Vietnam's Modernist Architecture

Since the mid-twentieth century, Vietnamese architecture has started to be made from industrial materials such as concrete, steel, glass, et.. This resulted in Vietnamese modernism, a branch of global...

in Architecture

The Story of Vietnam's Urban Energy and Aspirations Told via Southern Modernist Architecture

The following article is an edited excerpt from the recently published book Southern Vietnamese Modernist Architecture, presenting the history of the style, and how it contrasts with modernism in nort...

Partner Content