A $4000 Prefab Prototype in Vietnam

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By Patrick Sisson / Published by Dwell
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A compact Vietnamese prefab housing prototype features local materials.

On a site surrounded by bamboo and banyan trees, Vietnam’s Vo Trong Nghia Architects may have figured out how to make a home flexible and affordable, yet strong enough to stand up to the flooding and climate challenges of the Mekong Delta. The S House prototype, the second in a series built by the architecture firm, seeks to fill a gap in this tropical region’s housing stock, which lacks a large-scale solution for cheap, permanent homes.

Costing just under $4,000 to build, the S House prototype provides affordable, durable shelter in a region where homes often need to be rebuilt every few years.

Costing just under $4,000 to build, the S House prototype provides affordable, durable shelter in a region where homes often need to be rebuilt every few years.

Built this April in southern Long An province, the S House combines the stability and practicality of prefab construction with affordable building techniques. A precast concrete frame—which is light enough to be taken in pieces by skiffs up the Mekong River, the dominant method of transport in the area—is finished with Nipa palm and cement board panels on site. The layered roof and natural exterior provide ventilation and natural light, all while blending into the natural environment. 

Vo Trong Nghia Architects utilized passive design strategies and a double roof, constructed from Nipa palm and corrugated cement, to ventilate the home, an important consideration in a humid, tropical environment.

Vo Trong Nghia Architects utilized passive design strategies and a double roof, constructed from Nipa palm and corrugated cement, to ventilate the home, an important consideration in a humid, tropical environment.

Editor's note: The beauty of this design is in its efficiency and affordability. For another take on a similar prefab silhouette, read about Jean Prouvé's prefabricated architecture.

The key to the home's relative affordability is the selection of materials. A prefabricated frame is covered in natural materials, such as Nipa palm, that can be easily replaced and maintained, while seamlessly blending in with the surrounding environment.

The key to the home's relative affordability is the selection of materials. A prefabricated frame is covered in natural materials, such as Nipa palm, that can be easily replaced and maintained, while seamlessly blending in with the surrounding environment.

With an average income of $130 a month, residents of the Mekong Delta often create similarly sized thatched housing, but the standard timber frames warp due to flooding and weak soil. The concrete frame costs more upfront, but last much longer.

With an average income of $130 a month, residents of the Mekong Delta often create similarly sized thatched housing, but the standard timber frames warp due to flooding and weak soil. The concrete frame costs more upfront, but last much longer.

The modest, 322-square-foot interior opens up into the environment.

The modest, 322-square-foot interior opens up into the environment.

The interior construction of the S House is simple and stragithforward; ten concrete posts braced by steel supports are filled with Nipa palm panels fashioned on site.

The interior construction of the S House is simple and stragithforward; ten concrete posts braced by steel supports are filled with Nipa palm panels fashioned on site.

Principals Vo Trong Nghia, Masaaki Iwamoto, Kosuke Nishijima are already working on a third version of the S House, seeking to increase durability and reduce cost.

Principals Vo Trong Nghia, Masaaki Iwamoto, Kosuke Nishijima are already working on a third version of the S House, seeking to increase durability and reduce cost.