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Hanoi Ad Hoc 2.0 // Dwelling in Flux

Splitting, Cutting and Intercepting Everyday Lives

Hanoi’s development has experienced a turbulent history with more than a thousand years of foreign influence from China, French colonization (1873-1954), and socialism following the model of the USSR (1945-1986). Since 1986, Vietnam’s Đổi Mới economic reforms brought rapid urbanization and growth as well as greater connection to the global capitalist market. All these economic and political transitions had a significant impact on the development of housing in the city.  
Despite the narrative of historic ruptures in the making of the city, Hanoi maintains continuity between its cultural heritage and today’s built environment through a long-standing practice of people modifying, repurposing, and building their own homes.  In the post-reform era, the tradition of informal development occurs outside of conventional urban planning, but flourishes based on customary rules, ambiguous legal status, and negotiations between citizens and the state. This flexibility can be viewed as a vernacular model of spatial intervention through which ordinary people claim their right to the city and actualize their aspirations in the context of changing social conditions, and cultural influences. 
Hanoi’s complex urban fabric is characterized by close juxtaposition of different housing types, as well as in the hybridization of different forms and ideologies within the housing types themselves. New housing adapted to the structure of the city and resulted in transformations to its historic housing stock as well as the proliferation of self-built housing between existing ones. For many decades, this enabled a mixture of social classes in Hanoi’s city center and contributed to relative stability in land and housing tenure. However, new trends drive increased spatial polarization as upper classes move to new towns (khu đô thị mới) on the city outskirts. Dismissed as unorganized and unsightly, Hanoi’s local urbanisms are increasingly devalued in the wake of the city’s rapid development to reorganize and “civilize” its urban landscape. 
Hanoi Ad Hoc 2.0 will investigate diverse forms of housing in Hanoi, and how dwelling transforms the city through multiple scales of spatial and material intervention. From the motel room as a family bedroom, to the cơi nới appendages of collective housing, to reimagined forms of village identity and collective ways of living, we aim to understand how people sustain and reinvent elements of their everyday lives in innovative and often unpredictable ways. This project seeks to reevaluate adaptation in architecture as co-productions of the city and a critical process which preserves cultural continuity threatened by reconstruction in the city center and land dispossession on the periphery.

Through Hanoi Ad Hoc’s 3 acts to Archive, to Theorize, and to Provoke, we will explore Hanoi’s flexible and adaptive approach to housing. In the first act of Archive, we will collect existing data, research, and archival documents in order to reconstruct a digital map and database about housing development in Hanoi. This will prioritize the collective aspect of housing through documentation of village geographies, social housing projects, and new town developments. This act will also consist of fieldwork, including a photographic survey of adaptation actions within a variety of dwelling spaces and housing types.

In the second act of Theorize, we first aim to develop a typology of adaptation in Hanoi. This can be understood as a departure from the form-types (rural house, tube-house, villa, high-rise) towards an independent concept of adaptation-types that describe the type of transformation rather than the features themselves. Further, this act will analyze the process of design and transformation through detailed case studies of individual households that illuminate contemporary narratives of change in Hanoi.

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Finally, the third act of Provoke allows us to explore possible pathways for change and adaptation in the future. Based on the adaptation typology and case study narratives, we will develop imaginative scenario storylines to describe likely and desirable futures for the evolution of Hanoi. These are not intended to accurately “predict” the future of the city, but are presented to open and stimulate discussion for how designers might adapt housing for such futures.

Research Method

Act I: Archive

As a basis for work, we will investigate housing in Hanoi through multidisciplinary research of existing literature, internet information, and archived documents including housing policies, cadastral maps and master plans, and media reports. In addition, we will investigate the physical archive of housing in Hanoi through on-site field work and produce a photographic survey of adaptations that will inform the development of an adaptation typology.

Our aim is to survey the geographies and chronology of housing in Hanoi to contribute to our long term research archive. As part of Hanoi Ad Hoc’s multi-year research program, housing forms one layer of a GIS map and database on the project’s online platform. The map in particular is a tool that allows new readings of relationships between factories, housing, and other urban elements in context of the city as a whole.

Act II: Theorize

Based on an inventory and understanding of housing development in Hanoi, we aim to analyze the types of transformation made across housing types. In contrast to common genealogical approaches to housing typology that focus on the chronological evolution of particular forms, our approach will look at a broad variety of current forms of dwelling in the city to understand the diversity and distribution of common types of adaptation. Our systematic documentation will produce a catalog of adaptation strategies and identify the drivers of transformation (to what they adapt) as well as their material and spatial composition (how they adapt). Major categories of transformation may include:

Modified form:  Since the 1990’s after Vietnam’s economic reforms, liberalized policies allowed Hanoi citizens to renovate and own their own homes. Along with rapid urbanization and housing shortages, this resulted in drastic densification of Hanoi’s collective housing ranging from colonial villas that had been subdivided into multi-family housing to the modernist Khu Tập Thể estates. Families extended their living space vertically, horizontally, and by occupying garden and public spaces. Beyond increasing function, form also comprises the “urban facade,” and is a reflection of the aesthetic preferences of the owner. Hanoi’s vernacular cosmopolitanism includes syncretic “new French style,” as well as the popular revival of traditional wooden Vietnamese houses and vernacular climate strategies.

Modified program: In Hanoi, the home is the primary site where families save and invest their money, as well as often where they earn a living. With few external transformations, the home is easily modified to function as a service, retail, workshop, or accommodation space, often with interchangeable programs in time. This perspective is also informed by the constantly mediated boundary between urban (communal) and domestic (private) space, from ambiguous thresholds, to the appropriation of public space and external sectors like the Vietnamese nhà nghỉ motel for the extension of domestic use.

Modified culture: Though often characterized as a rupture, many cultural practices and belief systems in Vietnamese culture have been displaced and forced to adapt to a modernizing context. As a consequence of rural-to-urban migration as well as suburbanization of Hanoi’s periphery, this has particularly resulted in rural-urban hybridities with the continued importance of growing food and medicine, honoring ancestors and spiritual practices, and community space for gathering both physical (apartment corridors) and virtual (online “bản” communities). These localizations fill the gaps of modern architecture and form a counter-process to the globalized development dominating Hanoi today. This adaptation is also evident in the Vietnamese diaspora, where nostalgia heavily informs Vietnamese living spaces.

We will select case studies for a close reading of how people perceive and respond to changing living conditions in Hanoi. Rather than only focusing on individual buildings of interest as the subject of our case studies, we will investigate how family households have inhabited and transformed multiple building types, whether moving from one home to another, or inhabiting a second home or hotel room. Through our documentation, we hope to illuminate critical narratives of change and show how adaptation continues to define and expand the possibilities of Hanoi’s self-built heritage.

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Act III: Provoke

In exploring the types and scales of transformation on which dwelling operates, our research identifies vernacular strategies for adaptation that can be recombined in novel ways and act as a resource for residents and homeowners today. In addition, we aim to bridge research and practice with a set of provocations that will serve as a reference for future research-led design.  


From our research on the adaptation typology and case study narratives, we identify pathways and visions for the future potential of housing development in Hanoi. These alternative futures will be developed as imaginative storylines that integrate different adaptation types and explore different scenarios for how the city might approach flexibility and openness to local initiatives and informal housing. We will speculate on the dynamics of how small-scale home adaptations influence local systems, and from there the urban context as a whole. 


This project proposes that adaptive strategies can inform generic architecture and traditional typologies to offer new prototypes for housing. The theme of adaptation will serve as a provocation for Hanoi Ad Hoc’s idea competition within 72 hours. Designers are invited to respond to one of the scenario storylines by considering how the life of a house designed today might better anticipate and incorporate adaptive responses to a changing culture, society, and climate. We argue that the need for flexibility is one of the most relevant challenges for architecture of the future. By celebrating mechanisms of adaptation, we hope that stakeholders and decision-makers will better recognize the value of informal practices which interact with the formal processes of city planning and development.



Our project outcomes aim to contribute to public discussion about how city planning and management can respond to bottom-up processes of adaptation. As housing in Hanoi continues to be developed at a rapid scale, we attempt to link traditional spatial practices with contemporary experiments, and show how adaptation can inspire and expand the possibilities of Hanoi’s self-made urbanity. Project outcomes include:

Online database
Interactive map and digital archive and tools for exploring the history of housing in Hanoi. We create and publish this archive openly for use by readers, viewers, architects, scholars, and journalists, and expect it can also be an interactive tool to engage students / young citizens interested in learning about the history and culture of the city in a more dynamic way.

Drawings and diagrams

A catalog of adaptation strategies will be documented through exemplary photos, analytical drawings, and typological diagrams. This research contributes to genealogies of urban habitats, by looking at the relationship of different housing features by form, but also by adaptive use and other models of adaptive behavior. We will also experiment with different modes of drawing everyday life and transformation through a series of anthropological drawings. 

"Close read" Stories

Case studies and narratives of change will be chosen from our research activities that prove especially insightful about the relationship between peoples’ homes and their family histories, lifestyles, and aspirations.  Through a series of text and multimedia “close-read” stories, we will present different voices and approaches that engage a public audience.

Adhoc International Talk Series and Workshops

This project facilitates the exchange of knowledge between international and local researchers through a series of public-facing talks and workshops. Specialist talks will be held to discuss significant case studies and projects in Vietnam. In addition, we will hold an interdisciplinary student workshop in cooperation with international partners that will include discussions on methodology, site visits, and production of drawings and models for future exhibition.​

Scenario Storylines

The development of future scenarios as a research outcome reflects the priorities of different actors and different trends in housing development in Hanoi. We will use scenario-building as a creative writing exercise to speculate on what drivers of adaptation will be most relevant, and as a baseline for further research and discussions.


Design competition


Hanoi Ad Hoc will invite participation from our partners and the public  through an open design competition held in the quick-competition format. Design provocations will respond to the scenario storylines and contribute to imagined futures for Hanoi. They will showcase how architecture can transform by anticipating and incorporating different types of adaptation early in the design process. 

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