Hanoi/ KTT CASE STUDY: Architectural presentation of the ideal and the real

*This narrative post is mainly based on the information collected in the “The Impact of ‘Informal’ Building Additions on Interior/Exterior Space in Hanoi’s Old Apartment Blocks (KTT)” in Conference: Architecture in the Fourth Dimension. Nov. 15 – 17, 2011.

KTT Nguyen Cong Tru is a 6-hectare KTT housing estate in Hai Ba Trung District first opened in 1963. In its original plan, there are 14 four-story apartment blocks, 4 two-story blocks, a kindergarten, a primary school and a food market to accommodate 4200 residents. Meanwhile, it had spacious tree-lined yards between buildings and a wine factory as the main working place was standing outside the periphery.

This ideal image of well-planned dream home broke down with the over-populated apartments since 1980s. The current number is 1292 households of 7000 people living there. In order to get larger living space, better living conditions or more residential units, local residents have achieved unofficial agreement within the neighbors for illegal extended structures and interior renovation.

(Dinh Quoc Phuong, 2011)
(Dinh Quoc Phuong, 2011)

As the example of the extended structures, between Block B1 and B2, the original public space has been heavily occupied by them at different levels. For extra living space, the original balconies have been turned into larger rooms with length of one to two meter or even more supported by the new self-built steel-frame structure. And part of the extensions came to have shopfronts similar to the old tube houses

(Dinh Quoc Phuong, 2011)
(Dinh Quoc Phuong, 2011)

And on the other hand, the inside renovation officially approved by the government happened at the same time(similar to the official interior division happened in Shanghai Lilong). In the case of Mr. Long’s unit in this KTT, it was almost doubled in the late 1990s from the original 16 meters to 30 meters. Through redesigning this partial circulation and partitions, Mr. Long even built an inner-courtyard as an open space for domestic activities with better ventilation within the unit.

(Dinh Quoc Phuong, 2011)

All these detailed looks into the transformation of KTT, like the additional structures and the unit spatial arrangement shows a return to the traditional housing environment of the Ancient Quarter. The local architectural cultures reflecting human scales and everyday practices better have been integrated into the soviet housing system as the reality of the native housing.


  1. Dinh Quoc Phuong (2011). The Impact of ‘Informal’ Building Additions on Interior/Exterior Space in Hanoi’s Old Apartment Blocks (KTT). In Architecture in the Fourth Dimension, Nov. 15 – 17, 2011. Boston.
  2. Emmanuel Cerise and Kelly Shannon (2010). Informalization of Formal Housing / Formalization of Informal Housing. In Human Settlements: Formulations and [re]Calibrations (d’Auria, V., Ed., De Meulder, B., Ed., Shannon, S., Ed.). Amsterdam: SUN Academia. p.66-71.
  3. Labbé, D. (2014). Land Politics and Livelihoods on the Margins of Hanoi, 1920-2010. UBC Press.
  4. William S. Logan (2000). Hanoi: Biography of a City. Seattle: University of Washington Press

5 Comments on “Hanoi/ KTT CASE STUDY: Architectural presentation of the ideal and the real

  1. It is quite interesting that the official and illegal modification of the units happened at the same time. Why wasn’t the illegal structures built upon residents’ illegal agreement regulated when the overpopulation problem was actually noticed by the government? Did the residents construct their own order that happen only within their community in KTT Nguyen Cong Tru, as similar to the Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong before its demolition? It would be nice to know more about the government’s rationale when they draw the line of control in these apartment blocks.

  2. Before 1990, the illegal construction which needed a number of construction permits was more controlled by the government. In the 1990s, many of the requirements were dropped. Though still certain types of official papers were in need, the ward-level local officials did not give powerful execution because of the shortage of housing of the whole city. There was certain tolerance within the moral-political environment of Hanoi and main tendency to encourage self-construction of housing by the authority.

  3. The illegal extension is a phenomenon that can still be seen today in those space- lacking apartments.What’s unique for Hanoi behind this informal challenging the formal idea is the demographic issue. It would be interesting to know where the residents living in one block are from.For example, they may originally live in the same area as a community before being accommodated to the KTT. So what happened to the place they used to live? Or they may be colleagues working in the same factory. So is the housing built near the factory? An understanding of the demographic issue can help us further investigate into a larger picture of things happening in Hanoi city. Also, the identity of the neighborhood may provide us a lens to explain the character of the informal.

    • From the original interview with Mr.Long, the unit owner in the post, he and his neighbors who had unofficial agreement with him were all government employees. They migrated to live and work in Hanoi after the war.It was not sure about whether they worked in the nearby factory as the orignal planning of the soviet microrayon, but the fact was most KTT housing were built for a specific population – government employees, workers or members of the military. KTTs originally could weigh against the low wages in the socialist economy but they were finally abandoned also due to the low interest pressuring the government.

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