Saigon: Can They Build It?

Saigon: Can They Build It?

2 624

Building techniques in Vietnam, leave me in a state of confusion. Architecture here varies tremendously in design and build quality and whilst some of it is a bit Heath Robinson, to say the least, when they get it right, it’s good, very good. I have seen some incredibly bad build quality and some incredibly good, I suppose when you take away the severe regulation that we are used to in the West, this is the result.

The Ever Increasing Number of Condo Blocks

I still find it incredible that they can build huge tower blocks without any steel framework. Reinforced concrete, going up one floor at a time, does the job adequately and I haven’t heard of any falling down yet. Mind you, I don’t think they’d get away with it in an earthquake zone. The standard of the condo blocks is high, expats living in them will bear testament to that. What does surprise me though, is that they will build one block, and a few years later that one will lose its view, as permission is given to build another next door. This is currently happening in An Phu, where the view from the apartments in Imperia will, in the next year, be obliterated as the new Lexington Residence heads for the sky.

The 25 storey Lexington Residence reaches for the sky

A Room with an Ex-View

This idea of building right next door to another building has recently been taken to extremes in District 2. A house that enjoyed lovely views across the Highway towards Thao Dien, has just had them taken away in dramatic style. It appears that the tiny side street is the house address and so the beautiful bay windowed gable end, gave the appearance of being the front of an imposing residence. A new house is currently being built right across the front of it. People in the existing property, can literally lean out of bedroom windows and touch the gable end of the new house.

The original House on the right, has lost its entire view to the left, with the building of the new house.
The close proximity of the second house is clearly shown here

The House that Nhat Built

The way they build the houses would cause havoc in my home country, England. Heath & Safety for a start would mean that work never got started; then the construction would never be permitted. A ramshackle concrete framework is filled in with even more ramshackle brickwork. Then the whole lot is rendered. The finished product however, looks amazing. These houses have real character and are designed to suit the Vietnamese climate. I honestly think the West could learn a great deal from these people. The price of housing in the UK, is out of control. The average age that people now take out their first mortgage is above 40, purely because it is so expensive. Of course the price of land plays a big part, but that’s a whole new article. Young couples in the UK face, on average, a 22 year wait as they save up enough money, simply for a deposit! Start building a few like this and maybe more young people could afford to buy. Whilst there have been stories of houses fallen down, that happens in every country. I think when it has happened here, it has been caused through a neglect of foundations rather than the actual structure itself, which in most causes seem very strong.

At this stage of development, it looks anything but a good job
The finish product is though, often superb

Reaching for the Sky

When it comes to skyscrapers, I much prefer those in Saigon to anything in Manchester. In fact with the exception of the Shard and the Gherkin in London, I think the UK has very little to offer, by way of glass towers. The Bitexco Tower is an amazing structure and has real character. It dominates the Saigon Skyline from all over the city. The new towers currently under construction will add much to the skyline, particularly at night, when they turn the lights on. With news that they are to build a dozen or so new towers on the District 2 side of the Saigon Rover, including one at 81 storeys that will totally eclipse the Bitexco Tower, the Saigon night sky is in for a dramatic change.

Saigon is currently undergoing massive changes. I do though, feel that it will maintain its position as my favourite city in the region.

Following a highly successful 25-year career as a singer/songwriter and musician, Keith pulled out of the rat race and moved to Southeast Asia in 2008. First living in Thailand, he moved to Cambodia and then relocated to Ho Chi Minh City in early 2013. He started the highly successful Saigon Districts website, turning it into the fastest growing site in Vietnam. After careful consideration, he decided to cover not just Vietnam but the whole region that he loves so dearly. Keith has had work published in magazines and websites in the UK, Europe, USA, Australia and Asia. He has written for the BBC and has appeared on TV and radio in many different countries. His great loves are music and travel, but he writes on a whole range of subjects. is a labour of love as Keith travels round the region garnering subject matter. Read more about the website here.


  • SimonJonston

    what gets me is the lack of building regulations. When i built a house (in a quiet, leafy neighbourhood in the burbs) we were told that we could only go up 15m and needed a 3m set back from the road. Since we build other neighbouring houses have gone up, the latest being built almost over the pavement and straight up 20 meters - a horrible rectangular apartment block completely out of sync with the rest of the ‘hood. Probably paid the local housing regulator off so they could build this monster.

    • Keith Hancock

      I guess you are right, Simon. It is a mixture of good and bad for me. Some of the regs in the UK are sensible, others are ridiculous, and I used to work in the industry, albeit a long time ago. But I do feel though, that the total lack of rules and regulations out here is refreshing. Better than the Nanny State approach.