Thursday, August 09, 2007

Construction Methods in Hanoi

One of the things you quickly realize upon getting here is how home and office construction is much different than typical for the East Coast of the States. It's not a big deal until the weather gets either wet or hot, so basically it's not a big deal for about 2 months out of the year in Hanoi.

I'm not in the AEC field like Mel, but this is the internet so my critiques here are imbued with the certainty of the uninformed.

There is a lot of construction going on in town, so it's easy to spy on the construction methods employed here. Most building, be it narrow 3 story in-town villas, or 10 story office towers, are built using concrete rebar pillars:

Every once in a while, you see steel i-beams used as the structural element, but not very often. This is one of the few i-beam buildings going up in Hanoi:

The walls are almost invariably built with bricks:

These brick walls are not structural (or at least I don't think so). Bricks + concrete walls are used because it is cheap and flexible in construction. Rebar and brick construction means you can literally shave floors off the tops of buildings, which was what happened to an apartment tower that was built one floor too high over their permit.

You can also knock holes into walls and patch them up again with ease. Witness the holes in Kevin's house.

The funny thing about brick wall construction is that the local builders can simply 'build around' obstacles, such as these trees. In a flight of fancy, one can imagine nature punching holes through man-made constraints on life. Or not.

On occasion, I do see bicyclists and moto riders transporting gypsum boards (aka drywall) around town, but I have not noticed drywall installed anywhere I've been. Maybe I need to go out more.

So what is the criticism of all this, besides the visual heft of all these concrete buildings?

Well, for one thing, I wonder how sturdy rebar pillars are. They may be strong in compression, but how about under tension? Hanoi does get its share of earthquakes. I kinda don't want to think about it, living a few stories up myself. A steel i-beam backbone seems so much safer.

And the brick walls sorta really suck when it comes to the weather. Unlike say a Stateside house in the 'burbs, covered in Tyvek, there are no vapor barriers to homes or apartment towers in Vietnam. So you get condensation on the interior walls, much like a moldy basement. Except that it happens 5 floors up in an apartment tower in the humidity of Hanoi.

And brick walls sorta really suck when it comes to insulation. You pretty much have none. The dense walls serve as heat sinks during the day, and radiate discomfort all night. It's reverse in the chilly winter, when the walls suck heat from the interior outwards.

How much does the construction methods employed in Vietnam tax its electric grid? At least everyone uses fluorescent bulbs in this country. My pallor is due to the lighting, honest!

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