Saturday, October 9, 2010

Houses in the country

Dateline: Oh, never mind, I'm still in Hue, it's the 9th of October and I'm still waiting for my new Visa from Hanoi but having a ball trying to wear out my motorbike around here in the meantime. With the announcement that Noah had run aground somewhere south of here and the rains were seriously going to stop (for a bit anyway) I've been getting a lot further afield, though the low country was still pretty watery yesterday and the day before.

I decided you needed to see what houses look like in this part of the world, to be very specific, the central lowlands of Viet Nam. Assuming I get my paper work together in time to do anything about a tour of the Northwestern mountains this trip, you'll see something very different in the way of housing in the Northwest, but that's then and this is here. The houses are almost all made with columns and beams of cast in place reinforced concrete. Typically the columns have four number four bars (half inch diameter rods and very light wire stirrups (hoops to contain the long bars)on about twelve to eighteen inch centers. H'mm is that too much information? Okay, skip that, the columns and beams form the shape of the house including some of the interior walls that are structural. All the rest of the walls are just infill of either brick or hand-cast concrete blocks. Either way, the whole structure gets stuccoed (eventually. . .it's not necessary to move in by any means).

Up out of the actual river valley you'll also see some timber framed houses here, no concrete or masonry above the floor, all wood and lovely. I've stuck a particularly pretty little timber frame house in with the others.

Roofs. . .well, the rafters and purlins will be local hardwood usually though very light home made steel trusses show up sometimes in larger houses, and the waterproof layer. . .nicest around here is red brick tile of one sort or another, usually a very nicely detailed tile, not just a simple half round, though there are a few of those. Other than that though, there are cement board corrugated roof panels and. . .galvanized and/or painted corrugated steel sheets. They all make good roofs. I can tell you personally that the tin roof will keep you awake on a really rainy night. . .bring earplugs. The tile roof is about silent and may last longest in this climate, you see some that look very old indeed, but then, the cement-fiber corrugated panels seem to last really well too. I suspect the steel roofing, even with the best coating is not a 20 year proposition here. Anyway, too much information again eh? Windows. . .have shutters usually, not glass, and usually some sort of an ornamental iron grille that also serves to keep long arms outside. Doors are often the full width of the front of the building, which makes sense in this climate, you want all the light and air you can get. They're all locally made, the doors and window frames beautifully so by local furniture makers in every little village. There's rarely any glass involved. Nobody needs or wants it unless they also have air conditioning, which very few people do (thank goodness)though almost everybody has fans. (Trivia question: when a fan is finally really dead, what do you do with it?? Answer: I don't know about the rest of the things, but the cages around the blades make great baskets for showing vegetables in the market. There must be a lot of dead fans around, sure are a lot of nice wire baskets). Houses here in the lowlands are almost always built on a fill to get them above normal high water. In many cases, the lot obviously extends from the highway back 150 feet or so and the house builder will build stone or block walls, vertically, from highway grade straight back to the back of the property, and fill it all level with the road more or less. . .and the block walls at the back of the property become the foundations for the house, which becomes thus just as wide as the property, so such houses always have a front and a back that are pretty, but the two sides will be windowless and finished gray plaster. . .just waiting for the neighbors to arrive. Houses on property or country style lots are more what you'd expect, four sides, the saluting side a little nicer than the others, but still four reasonably equal sides. But we also have castle houses. . .the Vietnamese version of a McMansion I guess, they'll run to three or even four stories and can be just as gorgeous as a wedding cake, complete with the statues. . .although they won't be a bride and groom, they'll either be a Quan An (the lady Buddha, sort of the goddess of mercy and compassion. . .or her Christian equal, the Virgin Mary, they're pretty much in the same business.)and they won't be on top of the house, they'll be on a porch of their own, maybe on the third floor. But I digress again. . .I was about to point out that the thing about filling before building the house can lead to a new understanding of the concept of private island. . .during high water at least.

The houses are almost always painted, not left cement gray, and the paint work is usually quite detailed. . .really nice to see, though the colors can be surprising. Odd, they don't seem out of place in this climate, even the stunning yellows and pinks. They just look nice. Startling maybe at first, but. . .they grow on you.

That's all I had in mind for this evening, a bunch of pictures and a couple of quick thoughts.