With a narrow face on the street (often as narrow as 2 meters) and a long space on the inside (they can be up to 80 meters deep) these houses do indeed resemble tubes.This style dates back to the Le Dynasty (1428-1788), when they were popular as a way to fit as many stores on a street as possible. Typically, the houses had a shop area in the front and used the back areas for relaxing and sleeping. Another theory is that since property used to be taxed based on the width of the property at the street, land was subdivided into very narrow and long parcels upon which correspondingly long buildings were built.
That mixed use of space for commerce and residence remains today, though the buildings have soared to create tall thin “rocket buildings”. Confined to the ground area by the original land deeds, owners have had to expand upwards, creating three, four or five-story ‘rocket buildings.’ With the extra floors shopkeepers were allowed to move the living areas upstairs and expand their stores. Most of these buildings in Hanoi and other cities in Vietnam are usually four stories tall, though some are much taller . The facade and roofs draw liberally from various architectural styles and motifs and the long sides are usually windowless. Due to concerns of theft open balconies are covered with a metal screen.
Photography © Quintin Lake, 2010