New wave of cheap homes in Vietnam?

New wave of cheap homes in Vietnam?
Vo Van Duong's bamboo and coconut leaf house looks much like others deep in Vietnam's Mekong Delta.

Vietnamese Vo Van Duong's bamboo and coconut leaf house looks very much like others deep in Vietnam's Mekong Delta.

But unlike them, his seemingly simple abode is designed to withstand typhoons, flooding and earthquakes.

Built at a cost of less than US$4,000 (S$5,400), it could herald a new wave of cheap, sustainable housing.

The natural materials on its surface belie the hi-tech internal structure of the farmer's new home, which uses steel struts and wall panels as a defence against the elements in this region, which is prone to natural disasters.

"The new house is safer, I'm not afraid that it will collapse," the 48-year-old papaya farmer told AFP inside the house, which he moved into nine months ago.

Mr Duong is testing a prototype by an award-winning Vietnamese architecture firm looking for low-cost housing solutions for communities vulnerable to climate change.

His S-House 2 was free, but if rolled out on a wider scale, could be sold for less than US$4,000.

"There was water coming down from the roof in my old house. Sometimes, when there was a strong wind, I was so afraid the house wouldn't survive," Mr Duong said, adding his new home was the envy of his neighbours.

The eco-home is the brainchild of Vo Trong Nghia, who joins other architects around the world in trying to fill a demand for cheap and easy-to-assemble housing - from flat-pack refugee shelters to shipping-container homes for tsunami victims.

He said all architects have a duty to help the poor.

"What about those with low income, billions of them, how can they live?" Mr Nghia said.

"They have the right to live in comfortable, functional places."

But he wants to go further, creating a home residents can take pride in.

"I don't want people to be looking at it as 'cheap houses', but as resort-quality accommodation close to nature, so (residents) can live a life of the highest quality," he said.

The design is still being refined by his team, who are eventually aiming to create a flat-pack home.

The newest version, S-House 3, can be built by five people in three hours.

GOAL

"Our goal for S-house is for the owner to construct it by themselves," said Kosuke Nishijima, a partner at the firm.

The latest design also allows for multiple houses to be tacked together, a function that could allow, for example, the construction of a storm-proof school easily transportable to remote areas or a larger family home.

Mr Nghia has already been approached by non-governmental organisations in disaster-prone Bangladesh and the Philippines, but is not yet ready to supply the house commercially.

For decades, Vietnamese families have adapted their houses themselves, many building ad hoc mezzanines to avoid flooding.

In more recent years organisations, including the Red Cross and Women's Unions, as well as local authorities, have been trying to help people develop more resilient housing.

But to ensure such projects are successful, "private architects' support is critical", said Ms Boram Kim, an urban specialist with UN- Habitat in Vietnam.

"State and local government authorities are well aware that such houses are needed for the poor, but have little technical knowledge for realising their ideas," she said.

"Architects have technical knowledge for reducing the housing construction cost while making it storm-proof," she said, cautioning that it was important for designers to listen to the needs of local communities.


This article was first published on January 31, 2015.
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