Blog : Da Nang

The Hiên House: Creative Design Takes Balconies and Terraces to the Next Level

The Hiên House: Creative Design Takes Balconies and Terraces to the Next Level

/ Da Nang, Vietnam /

/ Story: Kanamon Najaroen / English version: Bob Pitakwong /

/ Photographs: Quang Dam /

Here’s a Tropical-style home located in Da Nang, a coastal city in central Vietnam famous for its gleaming sand beaches, Buddhist shrines and the Marble Mountains. The beautiful Han River runs through it. The hybrid timber and concrete home is appropriately named “The Hiên House” for its lively green façades, Hiên being Vietnamese for semi-outdoor room along the outside of the building. Overall, it’s a design that comes from thinking outside the box to create a relaxing space in the open air.

THE HIÊN HOUSE concrete home

The house’s external envelope is simple yet contemporary in style enhanced by verdant balconies and terraces symbolic of homes in the Tropics. Plus, there’s a unique Vietnamese flair to it. As the architects intended, it’s a layout that speaks volumes for a lifestyle that seeks reconnections with nature.

The concept is manifested in the way the ordinary balconies and terraces transform into the proverbial “breathing space” for nature to recover from disruptions. That said, it makes perfect sense to live more sustainably in this day and age.

THE HIÊN HOUSE concrete home

Wood and Concrete House

Situated away from a densely populated urban area, the wood and concrete house occupies the full extent of a long and narrow lot sandwiched between two roads. It’s home to three generations of a family highly skilled in traditional carpentry living in one household.

There are four stories of living spaces, excluding a rooftop deck. By design, the floor plans cater to the needs of different generations and hence vary in size and appearance from one level to the next. To celebrate the family’s distinguished career in carpentry, the architects made woodworking front-and-center concerns in house design and interior decoration.

During construction, the homeowners were also on hand to provide technical expertise at various stages in the process, especially where traditional Vietnamese woodworking skill was needed.

THE HIÊN HOUSE concrete home
The light and airy front entrance is visible from the driveway covered in stone pavers.

To help protect the environment, the design team at WINHOUSE Architecture, a design atelier headquartered in Da Nang, chose to use reclaimed wood instead of newly cut timber from the lumberyard. The recycled building materials used in this project included parts of the staircase, such as treads and risers taken from old homes that had been torn down previously.

Other parts were adapted from old decking, post sleeves, balusters and handrails as well as wooden fascia. They were made suitable for a new use or purpose. And, importantly, they were easy to transport and repair without using specialized tools.

Timber is durable even as it ages. It’s safe to handle and capable of withstanding heat and humidity in the air over a long period of time. Old and weathered wood has a natural appearance that’s beautiful and needs no preservative chemicals to prolong its lifecycle, which translates into big savings and convenience.

Using reclaimed wood in combination with local knowledge and modern techniques add a new dimension to construction technology.

THE HIÊN HOUSE concrete home

Balconies and Terraces for Free Air Circulation

What sets the four-story house apart from the rest is its surprising room ideas and lively green balconies that fill up the entire front façade. They are integral to a design that brings natural light and fresh outdoor air into the home. At the same time, they help dissipate heat from the building keeping the interior cool during the daytime.

Elements of design common for Southeast Asian architecture, the roofed open-air platforms along the outside of the building, be it the balcony or the terrace, perform many useful functions. Among other things, they expand the living areas, protect against the elements, and provide space for sitting rooms and passages for walking along.

First Floor Plan / Courtesy of WINHOUSE Architecture
Second Floor Plan / Courtesy of WINHOUSE Architecture
Third Floor Plan / Courtesy of WINHOUSE Architecture
In cross section, a side elevation drawing shows space planning decorated with plants working in tandem with wall openings to admit natural light and fresh outdoor air into the home. / Courtesy of WINHOUSE Architecture
Isometric visuals show reclaimed building materials being adapted to suit new purposes on all four levels of the new home. The message is clear: save the Earth and cut costs. / Courtesy of WINHOUSE Architecture

As is often the case with most houses, the elements of design such as balconies and terraces are built on the outside of the house. But in this particular case, the architects think it wise to incorporate them in the interior as well, sort of like going in the reverse direction. First they put in an inner courtyard at the center of the ground floor plan.

Then, by disposing the rooms around the courtyard, the areas with a faint light, such as the sitting room and workspaces, suddenly become well-lit and well-ventilated. It’s a clever hack to bring the outdoors into the home. The result is a comfortable living space filled with natural light and fresh air that contributes to feelings of relaxation.

THE HIÊN HOUSE concrete home
The kitchen in the farthest room is well-lit and well-ventilated.
THE HIÊN HOUSE concrete home
Going in the reverse direction, the terrace that in most cases lies along the outside of the house is put inside overlooking a lively green inner courtyard.

THE HIÊN HOUSE concrete home

Taking as a whole, the traffic patterns and space design make the long and narrow house plan feel roomy inside. Walk in the front door and you come to a hallway that’s light and airy, thanks to a rooftop skylight illuminating the stairs connected to a foot bridge over the nearby inner courtyard. There is no need to turn on electric lights during the daytime, which translates into big savings.

THE HIÊN HOUSE concrete home
Illuminated by a rooftop skylight, the staircase and foot bridge spanning the void over the inner courtyard make traffic flow easy and convenient.

THE HIÊN HOUSE concrete home
A well-lit foot bridge crafted of reclaimed timber connects the major living spaces in the home.

Climb a flight of stairs to the second floor, and surprise! It’s divided into two separate parts, the front room and the back room linked by a foot bridge that spans the void above the inner courtyard.

The same space planning applies to the third floor, except for one thing. The next staircase leading to the fourth floor is positioned further toward the back of the building. The front part holds a bedroom with a balcony decorated with lush greenery.

Cross over the foot bridge, and you come to the back room containing a workspace and sitting room. The fourth floor contains a quiet, more secluded reading room with a bright and breezy small garden for relaxation. It’s a comfortable living space and the light is more diffuse under the canopy of trees.

THE HIÊN HOUSE concrete home
Plants growing luxuriantly make the house façade green and lively.

THE HIÊN HOUSE concrete home

THE HIÊN HOUSE concrete home
Local builders skilled in traditional carpentry reinforce wood beams and pillars for increased load capacities.

In conclusion, the wood and concrete home called “The Hiên House” lives up to its name. All the elements of good judgement in design go to work turning it into an oasis of calm. Everything works out as it should, from a well-lit, well-aired inner courtyard to the plants, trees and small gardens thriving luxuriantly on the balconies and terraces. Perhaps, one word describes it all, salubrious!

Architects: WINHOUSE Architecture

Structural Engineers: Bim City

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Termitary House: Good Sunshine, Fresh Air, and Brick Walls

Termitary House: Good Sunshine, Fresh Air, and Brick Walls

/ Da Nang, Vietnam /

/ Story: Patsiri Chotpongsun / English version: Bob Pitakwong /

/ Photographs: Hiroyuki Oki /

The fact that the house is made of clay has enabled brick buildings to make deep connections with the natural world in so many ways. More importantly, the structures built of small rectangular blocks derived from nature are endowed with the power of storytelling that provides a window on vernacular culture, the environment, and the way of life native to a locality. These qualities are manifested in outstanding works of architecture, the likes of which are obvious at this house in Da Nang, Vietnam that uses brick walls as the main building element.

Good Sunshine, Fresh Air, and Plenty of Room to Breathe
The hall at the center of the house plan is spacious and well-lit, thanks to the skylight positioned directly above it. It has room for plenty of functions ranging from a sitting parlor to dining room to pantry. The natural light cycle interacts with the interior spaces, resulting in different color renditions as day goes by.

It all started with a family’s desire to renovate their home on a budget. A team of architects from the design firm Tropical Space soon came up with an idea inspired by termite mounds.

They knew that the small soft-bodied insects built their homes by cementing masses of earth with saliva. Amazingly, they are quite capable of withstanding hot and humid climates for long stretches of time.

For this reason, the architects designed the house walls to be built of bricks placed on top of each other with a break between blocks to create little ventilation holes that allow in light and drive natural air circulation.

Designed for tropical living, the 140-square-meter box-shaped house wrapped in perforate brick walls is going by the name “Termitary House.

To protect from heat, the team of architects put in perfectly opaque walls on the sides exposed to intense sunlight.

Meantime, the sides with less exposure to bright light had small openings built into the walls to promote air circulation, resulting in thermal comfort in the interior living spaces year round.

The same applied to the brick house façade that’s its most outstanding feature. The vertical flat structure was made of bricks fired the old-fashion way and laid with air holes at intervals all the way across.

The result is a breathing wall that allows in just enough light and a fresh supply of air. The light and spacious atmosphere lends a modern air to the home designed to be free from dust in summer and safe from inclement weather during the monsoon season.

More importantly, it’s about privacy that comes with unique design.

Situated on a rectangular plot with narrow frontage, this box shaped house is enclosed by brick walls with ventilation holes built into them. They serve multiple functions as privacy screens, breathing walls, and means of admitting daylight into the interior.

It’s a house plan that prioritizes thermal comfort as well as functions. The staircase, storage room and bath are strategically placed on the east and west sides.

During daytime hours they double as a layer of insulation to keep sunlight heat out. The hall at the center is spacious and well-lit, thanks to the skylight positioned directly above it.

The area offers plenty of space for a sitting parlor, pantry and dining area as well as easy access to the bedroom, bathroom and small reading room on the mezzanine.

Open concept design paired with perforated room dividers contributes to visual continuity that enables family to stay connected, happy and warm even on a busy day.

A small corridor lies between the outer brick wall and the inner wall decorated with transparent glass. Glass walls maximize natural light while protecting the interior living spaces from rain.

Well thought-out design adds privacy to the bedroom on the mezzanine. Opaque walls paired with perforated brick walls and skylight in the ceiling add a new dimension to design. Meantime, glass paneling for the wall is installed to protect the room from dust and inclement weather.

Breathing walls offer several advantages. By design, countless small holes in them let a moderate amount of light shine through, increase air circulation, and reduce interior temperatures to a comfortable level.

Upfront, the vertical brick structure provides an awesome privacy screen that’s energy efficient and allows people inside to see out. Made from inexpensive local materials, it comes alive when good sunshine creates movement and a shadow play on the surface.

And the show goes on day and night, thanks to the form, color and texture that give the brick wall its character.

The house walls are built of bricks placed on top of each other with a break between blocks to create countless small holes that allow light and air to enter and circulate freely. The resulting perforate shell contributes to physical ease and well-being in the tropical style home.

The night is aglow under the beams of electric light shining through the perforate shell. It’s a phenomenon that conjures up the image of a beautiful lantern symbolic of a joyful celebration.

This story is an excerpt from Modern Vernacular Homes Special Issue: Happiness Matters. (Available here in Thai and English)

Modern Vernacular Homes
This home is one of 13 Special Homes from the Modern Vernacular Homes: Happiness Matters, Thai and English by the Baan Lae Suan Team. The issue is available now! If you are interested, please contact us. >>

Architect: Tropical Space by Tran Thi Ngu Ngon and Nguyen Hai Long