Vo Trong Nghia designs Vietnamese shophouse with an artisanal twist
Vo Trong Nghia’s Bat Trang House breaks the traditional shophouse mould with two floors dedicated to commerce, several elevated gardens and a ceramic casing inspired by the owners’ artisanal heritage
‘The family wanted to build a modern shophouse but related to pottery,’ recalls Vo Trong Nghia, remembering a conversation with his client, an affluent artisanal family that produces high-quality ceramic products. ‘We checked that they liked trees, natural materials and light. When they agreed, we got to work.’
Shophouses – structures that serve both residential and commercial purposes – are common throughout Vietnam. Traditionally, shophouses were built across one floor, with the family’s street-facing shop at the front of the building and the living quarters at the back. A partition or courtyard would divide the segments in two. The layout flipped in the 19th century when the Vietnamese started building multifloored abodes; they did trade on the ground floor and lived on the upper floors.
The legacy of the shophouse inspired Vo Trong Nghia when he designed the Bat Trang House, which he completed in summer 2020. Vo designed a raised ground floor and lower ground floor as showrooms for the family to display and sell their products. Four additional private floors with a kitchen, living room, five bedrooms and several airy gardens sit above the two ground floors. The top floor includes a dedicated room for the family altar and an open-air swimming pool bordered by trees and plants.
Bat Trang, a ceramic craft village less than 15 kilometers from Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, dates back to the 14th century. Most families in the village still work in the ceramics trade and some, like Vo’s client, found success in exporting their products to Japan and Europe. Vo wanted the personality and heritage of the craft village to be evident in the architecture, so he wrapped it in a wall made of perforated red clay ceramic tiles that he commissioned in the village.
This ceramic cloak protects the house from the sun in the summer and the wind in the winter, while the holes ensure that the house still gets plenty of natural light. Large gaps allow for the trees and plants from the elevated gardens to burst through the terracotta-coloured façade. ‘I love the way pottery looks and feels – warm and tropical,’ says Vo, who had never worked with ceramic materials before. ‘But I also love it because it’s durable.’
Though best known for his use of natural materials, this isn’t the first time that Vo has also incorporated local heritage into his work. In Son La, a mountainous province in northwest Vietnam, Vo designed a small collection of five pavilion domes that serve as a multipurpose events venue. The shape of the thatch roofs were inspired by the traditional baskets of local groups. §