Tucked down an inconspicuous alleyway lies one of Hue’s most aesthetically fascinating homestays. Sahi was built to meet the owner’s dream of creating a retreat where guests can relax and meditate. Although grand in scale, the construction isn’t provocative. Rather, it stands harmoniously amongst the trees and its neighbours; complementing the alleyway‘s blend of nature and community.
Meditation Retreat and Homestay
SAHI Homestay and Retreat is a result of Thuy’s vision and Duong’s expertise, a desire to transform reality and create a space of communication through nature’s elements. Thuy and Duong, from Quan Tri and Hue respectively, returned to Hue after years spent raising their family in Saigon and Danang. They decided to set ground in Hue to accomplish Thuy’s dream of owning a homestay where she can connect develop community-based projects while sharing her knowledge on the world of meditation. The couple became interested in meditation during their time working in Saigon where they felt its benefits and have since participated in several VIPASSANA courses and groups around Vietnam and Hue respectively.
A Model for Sustainable Architecture in Hue
SAHI Homestay and Retreat’s unique design stems from its designer’s impressive resume. An architect by trade, Duong is the mentor of the Hue-based firm SILAA Architects. This 75.0 m2 hut was designed as a dorm-style homestay project and the open spaces are an extension of the surrounding landscape. Connection is at its best when navigating through spaces and there is never a feeling of separateness. Spaces communicate; they connect, live amongst each other democratically. The project respects sustainability and was built using wood salvaged from deconstructed buildings or waste materials.
Duong now lives, works and contemplates his latest project in the same place he was born; his parent’s house. Like an emotional tryptic, his parents’ house overlooks the office that is an extension of SAHI homestay where every line connects tradition and modernism. Duong´s architectural inspirations are wide and varied judging by his collection of books; From the 20th-century designs of Eduardo Souto de Moura, the public spaces of Mario Botta and the nature/urban amalgamations of Vo Trong Nghia.
Topics of Vietnamese Architecture in the 21st Century
Like SAHI, Duong is in harmony with the world and every gesture, words and feelings drift peacefully within him. He believes the foundations of a successful project lay in the power of an architect’s choice in client as much as the client’s employment of the architect. SILAA architects are educating a whole generation to perceive the artistic work that lies in each project. As Duong would agree, a building isn’t just walls for enclosure but a space of connection.
Frequently, when planning a city “architects don’t ́t have a voice and their influence extends as far as the walls of the building they are planning”. Judging by Hue’s economic growth and some questionable decisions made on cultural heritage and urban planning, we know this to be every word the truth. Opposing the heavy theoretical components in Hue University of Architecture, Duong makes sure that SILAA architects work with builders and know firsthand how materials work and behave in relation to the building and its people. Duong also believes architecture is transversal to several study areas and buildings influence the sense of community in that “when you make something real and people use it”, they will realize how buildings affect their daily lives.
We kept thinking about the future of Hue ́s planning, the neverending conflict between tradition and contemporaneity as well the social responsibility of architecture. To Duong´s eyes, architecture has a social responsibility in creating spaces where people engage. Not forgetting the government’s responsibility as they ultimately have the final decision on the city’s planning. Rather than responding to economic interests, decision makers should engage civil society, architects and artists to convey a narrative that is consistent with the city and serve a community purpose.
Duong mentions the new walking street and how it doesn’t engage with the public. He suggests that temporary buildings could occupy areas of Le Loi street to demonstrate what architecture can do to bring people in communicating with the spaces of Hue in a more meaningful way. Public spaces, such as museums, stand idle and empty as if they were impenetrable and untouchable. The opposite should happen and in Duong´s words; “destroy the fences and connect with museums, shops and people”.
An Optimistic Perspective for the Future
Duong is an artist at heart, like all architects should be, but also a historian, a social worker and a sociologist. His knowledge goes beyond design and life has provided him with the sensitive insight that all visionaries hold. Álvaro Siza Vieira once wrote that Architects don’t invent anything, they transform reality. SAHI homestay retreat resonates this feeling. Like children, we climb up steeply wooden ladders to the ethereal dorms where whites and wood browns play with the greenery of the garden that comes to lie on the beds. Everything falls into place: an easel next to the counter in the aftermaths of a painting community project Thuy is developing with the neighbors, even Happy the family’s dog wobbles whimsically in the kitchen . From this, we know that the SAHI family are just in tune with all we love and dream what this city could achieve.
It feels a defining moment in Hue and we hope more people like the family behind SAHI project can lead this new city to a more sustainable, green and socially-committed future.
Written by Ana Fortuna
Edited by luke Digweed