Vietnam has a rich architectural tradition dating back several millennia. Over time, its unique styles and forms have evolved, as have foreign influences melded together.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, orthodox architectural styles of royal palaces, pagodas, and houses found great success. Prominent examples are the temple of But Thap in Bac Ninh Province as well as Tay Phuong Pagoda.

Ly Dynasty

The Ly Dynasty made an indelible mark on Vietnamese architecture. Their sophisticated residential complexes were distinguished by soaring roofs with ornamental crestings and dragon-inspired railings, while pagodas such as Thang Long (the former name of Hanoi) became part of this period’s legacy, becoming part of UNESCO World Heritage.

Recently, scientists from the Institute of Imperial Citadel Studies (IICS) unveiled a virtual reconstruction of a Ly Dynasty palace to provide insight into its architectural grandeur that once graced Vietnam over 1,000 years ago. After spending over 10 years working on this project, scientists finally succeeded in bringing this architectural treasure back into existence.

At the height of Ly Dynasty rule, Buddhism became Vietnam’s state religion, marking a turning point in cultural history. Compassion and charity became integral parts of everyday life. Furthermore, Buddhist architecture, such as pagodas and monasteries, began to stand out among other constructions throughout Vietnam.

This period also marked the development of Vietnamese civilization. In 1076, the first academy was established, later becoming what is now the Temple of Literature (Van Mieu Bac Thanh). Furthermore, royal tombs and communal houses inspired by Chinese architecture emerged during this era.

Ruins of this architecture can still be seen today in Hanoi and Hoa Lu. Afterward, during the Tran dynasty’s rule in Vietnam, this form of architecture was used as the basis for further developments seen today within their citadel of Thang Long as well as within Hue.

After the Ngo Quyen Dynasty’s fall, the Le Dynasty opened a new chapter in Vietnamese history. Their architectural style resembled that of previous periods but with more refined and elegant features, as evidenced by relics such as the Ngoc Son temple and the Pavilion of the Constellation of Literature at the Temple of Literature.

Nguyen Dynasty

Vietnam, known for its varied topography and landscapes, boasts an eclectic architecture that has evolved through different historical eras. Each dynasty has left behind an architectural legacy, which helps define Vietnam’s unique identity.

The Nguyen Dynasty left behind numerous breathtaking buildings to demonstrate Vietnamese culture, such as the Hue Imperial Citadel with its thick walls and massive wood beams evoking power that once existed here. Furthermore, this period made notable contributions to Vietnam’s cultural legacy, with music performances at temples across Vietnam as well as thousands of temples and communal houses being constructed across its territory.

Although the Nguyen Dynasty only lasted 143 years, its short existence was filled with ups and downs during French colonial rule. The emperors of this dynasty were not only concerned with living but also with having elaborate tombs constructed for themselves to ensure an afterlife where their souls would rest peacefully.

The Nguyen Dynasty royal tombs are both beautiful to look at and evocative of mythological forces. While embodying the lives of its emperors, these tombs also tell a captivating story from Vietnam’s historical periods, such as national unification and military conquest.

Vietnam’s architecture has experienced an evolution throughout its history, from the traditional designs of the Hung Kings to today’s strikingly modern Vietnamese structures. This process was driven by both nature and society; at first, its design utilised bamboo, wood, leaves, and stone as primary building materials, while later it was altered with brick and ceramic influences.

At first, people lived in stilt houses (Vietnamese: nha san) to protect themselves from wild animals. These roofs often featured designs depicting boats or tortoises. Gradually, larger homes with complex structures and spacious courtyards were built.

The Nguyen Dynasty introduced a distinct style of architecture, featuring more refined materials and greater attention to symmetry. Their buildings adapted to changing social and economic circumstances more readily, as is evident by how their pillars, frames, and rafters were designed—their front house’s rafters were often connected directly with those from the back house through an umbrella roof (mai thua luu), still used today.

Reunification Palace

Reunification Palace was constructed for the President of South Vietnam during the American War and earned worldwide fame when North Vietnamese tanks crashed through its gates on April 25, 1975, leaving an iconic image of two tanks carrying soldiers draped with Viet Cong flags to invade South Vietnam’s Reunification Palace, still present today with two original tanks still parked outside as reminders.

Reunification Palace, also known as Norodom Palace and Thong Nhat Conference Hall, stands as an iconic example of Vietnamese architecture dating back to its original construction in 1868. Recently, it hosted an exhibit that chronicled this development over time as well as depicted Vietnam’s turbulent history.

While the exterior may seem inconsequential, its interior boasts modernist Vietnamese architecture and decor from the 1960s. Replica tanks that crashed through its gate on April 30, 1975, can also be found here, as well as many historical artefacts and an informative film on Vietnam’s history to view.

General Ngo Dinh Diem ordered this building to serve as his home and office after air force bombs destroyed his previous palace, yet he never got to enjoy its full benefits as he was assassinated in 1963. Later that same year, however, the Provisional Revolutionary Government changed the building’s name to Reunification Palace as an indication that Vietnam would move beyond its painful past and towards a brighter future.

Reunification Palace, now transformed into a museum, stands as a testament to Vietnam’s rich and fascinating past. Divided into four sections, its first area houses photographs and artefacts from Vietnam’s resistance period through liberation; these pictures and objects tell its own unique narrative of colonialism’s struggle for independence as well as paying a fitting tribute to all those brave soldiers who gave their lives for their nation.

Modern Architecture

Vietnam boasts an incredible past replete with dynasties, French colonialism, and war, yet it also boasts one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia as well as an innovative contemporary design culture. Vietnam’s turbulent history has shaped modern Vietnamese architecture, as evidenced by its varied forms and structures.

Vietnamese architects have taken to modernism in droves. While often associated with cold and uninviting spaces elsewhere, this architectural style has been tailored specifically for the Vietnamese cultural context and created a fresh yet lively design aesthetic not seen elsewhere.

Modern Vietnamese buildings often demonstrate Chinese influences, especially in the north. This can be seen through temples and pagodas, as well as some surviving garden houses. Conversely, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi boast more unique architectural influences that reflect Japanese, European, and American influences in their designs.

Vietnamese vernacular architecture is also highly distinctive, constructed traditionally using wood and other materials like pottery. Craftsmen are famous for their skill in woodcarving, often detailing mythological or cultural stories within intricate carving patterns, while pottery plays an integral part in traditional construction, with pots and jars serving as storage solutions.

Vietnam is home to the shophouse, a three- to five-metre-wide structure that typically occupies 100% of its lot and gives architects plenty of opportunities for creativity with regards to facade and rooftop design elements. Vietnamese architects have taken an ingenious intellectual approach when incorporating these features into their building designs, adding their signature aesthetic.

Many modernist buildings in Vietnam were designed by three architects from the 1940s through the 1960s: Nguyen Van Hoa, Pham Van Thang, and Nguyen Quang Nhac. One of their notable works is the Caravelle Hotel, which was commissioned by Nguyen Van Hoa and completed in 1959. After being renovated into a more globalised international style during renovation in the 1970s by Nguyen Quang Nhac, it remains in use today.