Hanoi / The breakdown of the socialist housing
The state boundary is dissolved by societal power. A physical reflection in Hanoi’s built environment is the high rate squatting and illegal construction applied to the socialist housing since 1980s.
Between 1958 and the late 1990s, many socialist housing estates were built in Hanoi. They were meant to construct a ‘red belt’ on the urban fringe of Hanoi. In Vietnamese, they are called KTT, Khu Tap The, literally ‘the collective’. This housing represented the socialist lifestyle of equality and central state control.
One example is KKT Kim Lien built before and during the war, in two phases 1960-65 and 1965-70. It was built on 40 square meters of rice field of the village Kim Lien. The initial plan was four-story blocks housing 20,000 inhabitants, each inhabitant having a four square meter living space. In the first phase, every six apartments were planned to share one kitchen and one washroom. In the second phase, the facilities were planned to be shared by every two apartments.
Kim Lien Apartment Block Type B Unit Layout Plan.
Within the Vietnamese context, the external model was diluted by indigenous power through alteration and addition. Under the socialist housing regime, the state had the will to repress private construction. There were strict rules for building construction and renovation. Numerous licenses and permits were required if any alteration wanted to happen. The state bureaucracy took many months, even years, to issue those licenses and permits. Meanwhile, the state’s attempt to provide communal housing turned to be a failure, due to poor economic condition and lack of capital. People in urgent need of housing were caught in a bind: constructing a dwelling privately was nearly impossible, yet the state was incompetent to meet the needs.
To overcome these obstacles, many people in Hanoi had gone fence-breaking. In the case of Kim Lien, illegal construction occurred from the 1980s. Violators built structures external to the buildings and made extensions and renovations to individual flat units. The ground floor apartments were extended towards the street to incorporate small shops. On the upper floors, suspended balconies were built to extend the living area. They also built small houses on the vacant space between housing blocks, which was called xay chen, or “squeezed-in construction”.
Top: General scheme of the transformation of KTT in Hanoi. Source: Cerise, 2001.
Bottom: KTT Trung Tu current condition. Source: http://www.baoxaydung.com.vn, 2015.
The condition of Kim Lien in the late 1990s. Source: Cong Ty Tu Van Thiet Ke Xay Dung (CDC), a company under the wing of the ministry of Construction, 2001, (cited in Geertman, 2007).
The tolerance in the process of policy execution at the bottom level of bureaucracy contributed to the high illegal construction rate. In housing regime, ward officials issued construction licenses, monitored illegal construction, investigated cases to report to the district and carried out district orders. Their official role was to penetrate through society and conduct the policy from top to bottom. However, in execution, the state regulations was reduced into three grounds on which ward officials could decide to allow illegal construction: a construction activity is accepted by neighbors, it does not offend public works and there is a pay-off for the ward officials. Violators sought mediation from the ward and support from neighbors to negotiate the state laws, whereas ward co-operated with violators and helped them avoid dealing with the requirements with higher approval.
The spontaneous transformation of the state funded socialist housing indicates the controversy between the state’s demands for more discipline and the society’s demands for more liberty. The state boundary was dissolved by the societal power and negotiation and adaptation happened. The formality was diluted by the informality. The model of the socialist lifestyle was eroded by the hustle and bustle of the everyday urban life.
Cerise Emmanuel. La densifaction des quartiers de logement collectif, in Hanoï; Le cycle des metamorphoses. Formes architecturales et urbaines, edited by Pierre Clément & Nathalie, 2001.
Koh, David W. H. Wards of Hanoi. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2006.
Geertman, S. J. L. The self-organizing city in Vietnam: processes of change and transformation in housing in Hanoi. Eindhoven: Technische Universiteit Eindhoven 10.6100/IR627198, 2007.
Hoai Anh Tran and Dalholm, Elisabeth. Favoured Owners, Neglected Tenants: Privatisation of State Owned Housing. In Hanoi, Housing Studies, 20:6, 897-929, 2005.