Mass Housing Guide

Hanoi, Vietnam

Soon after Vietnam gained independence from France in 1954, the Soviets began to impose a strong influence on planning and architecture in the new socialist state, especially in Hanoi. Among the imported ideas were the principles of the microrayon. From the ‘60s to the ’80s, adaptations of the Russian microrayon, called a Khu Tap The (KTT), or literally ‘the collective’, rose all over the country. See one of the first and finest examples built in Kim Liên, a neighborhood that shares a name with the birthplace of Ho Chi Minh. The KTT is unique among mass housing for its mustard yellow color.

City of Socialist Man
In the early days of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), close economic ties with the Soviet Union led to Soviet influence almost everywhere, from education to architecture. It was during this period of influence, from the 1960-80’s, that these public housing complexes were built. Urban policy for major cities like Hanoi was executed with a general aim of ‘gradually eliminating their “consumer town” aspect’.

At the formation of the DRV in 1954, there were only 10 qualified architects in Hanoi, all trained. in the French-run Beaux Arts college. The socialist state demanded a new generation trained in socialist practices. Many students enrolled in Soviet universities, such as the Kiev Institute of Architecture, and several socialist architecture institutes were built in Hanoi. From the 1960s and on, Soviet-trained Vietnamese architects and foreigners from the Soviet Bloc began practicing. Thus, they began to carry out the agenda that President Ho Chi Minh had set for them: ‘Hanoi and Haiphong may have been destroyed to the foundations, but when we achieve the final victory, we will build them back even more spacious, larger and more beautiful!’

From that period on, Soviet monuments, comprehensively planned satellite cities, and KTTs began to spring up all over the built landscape of Vietnam. The socialist influence only waned with the arrival of free market reforms of the Doi Moi in 1986. Travelers, make haste to see as much as you can before it’s too late!

The Complex
Between 1958 and 1990, 30 KTTs were built in Hanoi. The total area of these complexes, typically 4-5 storeys high, totalled 4,500,000m2, more than four times as large as the Old City, and about equal to the entire city centre.
Early KTTs were still built with traditional methods and materials, like brick and mortar. Kim Liên, built in two phases from 1960-’70, was one of the first to experiment with pre-fabricated construction methods. Over ten years, the complex grew from the 5 initial buildings, housing 20,000 people, to 22 spread over 400,000m2. The buildings were first designed as prototypes, then arranged on the site and given a codename based on their type, from A1 to G3.

Adopting principles of the Russian Micro-rayon, Kim Liên and the KTT generally were designed with collective living in mind. Each unit featured a private living room and sleeping quarters, but families would share toilets and kitchens. In theory, the state allocated 4-5m2 per person, but often two families would occupy a single unit due to housing shortages in Hanoi. Such communal living arrangements were meant to encourage brotherhood between citizens. Later KTTs were equipped with personal kitchenettes and toilets.

Taking another cue from Soviet planning, whole districts of the Khu Tap The were centered around communal services, such as kindergartens, shops, and medical care. Some KTTs were even used as staff housing for nearby state factories, so all functions of life and work could be found in one self-sufficient zone. Kim Liên did not include the full range of amenities initially, but they were later introduced after becoming common in all new complexes.

Not long after construction was completed, the complex began to suffer maintenance problems. The rent was too low to pay for general maintenance costs. Residents began to take matters into their own hands, adapting the public spaces and buildings to their own needs. Among the KTT, Kim Liên was one of the complexes with the most illegal construction, or xay chen (literally: squeezed-in construction). Small shacks made of bamboo, straw, or easily found materials, crowded the public spaces between buildings, being used for storage, additional living space or as shops. Residents often also expanded their own units with balconies and verandas. The Russian standards for micro-rayon construction also proved inadequate for the tropical climes of Hanoi, where it can rain up to 200mm an hour during monsoon season and reach 45°C in the summer. Adjustments to the buildings had to be made, such as the addition of vernacular pitched roofs.

Did you know?
The ambitions to build socialist cities didn’t die with the fall of the Soviet Union. In 2007, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced that he would begin building new utopian cities that embody ‘21st-century socialism’.

Caribia, the first one, will be finished around 2013, outside of Caracas. It will house 100,000 poor Venezuelans in 4-5 story, eco-friendly buildings and will include communal farms, museums, a university, and about 10 community councils organized around the housing complexes. The city will also run its own a radio station and newspaper.

Currently, there are five new cities under construction, and ten in the planning process. Cuban planners and Belarusian consultants will ensure that the projects are up to standard. The new cities will be part of ‘The New Geometry of Power’ program, one of Chavez’s five motors of socialist revolution.

Industrialised Building Speech, 1954