Architecture in Vietnam hums with simplicity, functionality and a deep appreciation for craft. Locals strive to protect the vernacular in all architecture and design, making even simple residential buildings enchanting to the foreigner. Along with these observations, one of the first things I noticed in every city and town I visited was the local love for this particular shade of yellow.
This golden shade, I later discovered, is so admired as it is a symbol of freedom and patriotism for the Vietnamese; it shines in the striped flag of Free Vietnam, and, once, was the colour only emperors and royalty were allowed to wear. My local tour guide also explained in broken English, with her accent honey sweet, that it is the colour of sunshine and happiness, and so the local people decided to never let it go.
This is the yellow of sunflowers in pale sunlight. It is vibrant but calming. It is distinct, and warm. After a day in the country, I felt myself seeing the world through a yellow tinted lens, and even the cloudiest of days felt brighter and hotter hereafter.
Particularly brilliant in both Ancient and Modern Vietnamese architecture was the attention given to tiles and mosaics. Mosaics are sprawled across urban walls like graffiti, are glued onto smooth tree trunks wherever possible, and are the focal point of ornamentation in traditional palaces and temples. Individual tiles continue to display a deep love for vernacular craft; roof tiles, wall tiles and railing tiles were all beautifully hand carved, then sun baked and dyed a shade of mustard, or sometimes blue to contrast.
Something striking about architecture here, like most countries in the East, was the longing and successful connection to nature the architects strove for. The roofs of these buildings were made of round, hand crafted tiles, stacked and arrange to resemble bamboo from afar.
Images of cherry blossoms, flowers and animals were scattered over ornate doors and windows, painted onto walls and adorned on shelves. We bought paper crafts showing crops in brilliant colours, and, later, fans on hot days with metallic flowers, and baked clay sculptures of turtles. Far from materiality and consumerism, the local mindset is spiritual, connected to nature and focused on peace and celebration of life. This was reflected in the architecture around us. Serene temples were popular, rooftop gardens with Buddha statues and people performing Tai Chi were commonplace, and, unless a religious or royal building, houses were simple, calming and humble.
These images speak for themselves; architecture in Vietnam is unexpected, unique and quietly wonderful. It stands strong and grounded within the moral values of the people it is built for, and by. Culture and respect for history is integral to it, and peoples’ simple, grounded lifestyles thrive within it.
After long, hot and sweaty days of exploring temples, palaces and marketplaces, I would come back to my bed and close my eyes, still seeing golden behind them, still feeling the bumps of mosaic dragons on my fingers, and still feeling the silent serenity of plain yellow walls in my mind.
Here’s to architecture so simple, yet so powerful.