A veteran researcher maintained the century-old earthen houses built by the ethnic communities in northern Vietnam’s Lang Son and Bac Giang provinces may provide a unique, environment-friendly housing solution in rural areas.
Seasoned culture researcher Phan Cam Thuong shared in an article on Tuoi Tre (Youth) Newspaper that earthen houses throughout the two provinces and some neighboring ones may be a preferred option to the concrete blocks which have mushroomed in many of the country’s rural areas.
A worrying number of limestone mountains have been blasted for cement and other construction materials.
However, the idea of building earthen houses has met with indifference from both local architects and farmers, Thuong noted.
The unique, comfy earthen houses
The villages gathering century-old earthen houses in Loc Binh District are seen some 40 kilometers east of Lang Son Province’s capital city and past Mau Son Mountain.
The number of such houses varies from village to village, occupying one half or two thirds of the houses at some villages, Thuong observed.
At many others, most earthen houses have been replaced with concrete and brick houses.
The oldest houses were built around 100 years ago and have seen several repairs.
The houses are mostly modeled after the ones in Tibet, though they vary in particular styles from one place to another.
Bac Giang province boasts high-quality basalt soil, which makes good materials for its earth houses, with their walls as thick as 60 and 70 cm.
Several abandoned houses stand firm with little decay by the elements for dozens of years, Thuong added.
The researcher noted that though the grayish, coarse-looking houses give an impression of poverty, they feel warm in winter and cool in summer and also serve as an effective air filter.
To build the houses, ethnic people typically build casket-like wood frames, put earth in and compact it into layers of wall.
Earth houses in Bac Giang generally have only one floor.
Meanwhile, Tay and Nung ethnic minority groups in Lang Son’s Loc Binh District either glue compact soil blocks with a natural adhesive or cover bamboo frames with layers of compact soil.
The latter approach is considered more efficient and popular.
As the ethic people here are good at compacting soil and building strong walls, their houses are usually as tall as three-storied houses, with its space generally divided into two floors, Thuong noted.
Earthen houses in Loc Binh typically have five compartments, one main door and nine windows.
They also boast annexes, containing toilets, cowsheds, pigsties, kitchens and warehouses.
Stones are put onto the roofs to brace them for gusts and storms.
According to locals, despite the houses’ sheer comforts and stability, they are usually infested with insects and mice and quite dusty.
They added building an earthen house costs as much as a brick one.
However, the utmost difficulty is that very few people now are proficient in the building techniques of earthen houses.
In former times, most villagers would gather and help a family build their earthen house. Such communal activities have long been things of the past.
While young generations usually pull down their forefathers’ earthen houses and build brick ones, the elderly prefer to live in the drafty, comfy earthen houses.
Several families choose to retain their earthen property while building brick houses in other places to live in.
Thuong concluded his article by underlining the feasibility of building such earthen houses in rural areas and giving modern touches and modifications to them.
The researcher stressed several cities in the world are still home to old and new earthen houses.
One example is Santa Fe- the capital of the U.S. state of New Mexico, which mostly boasts earthen houses, though their interior designs vary from one household to another.