La Casa Loca en Vietnam
Photos and Captions by Zigor Aldama
Part of the building looks like a gigantic tree hollow.
Some interiors imitate the caves of Vietnam’s Halong Bay.
The Eagle Room is designed with U.S. artistic elements in mind.
Some of the facades look sinister enough at night to disturb the hotels’ guests.
Entrance to the tree hollow-like structure.
From a certain perspective, the organic forms and lack of straight lines recall the style of Gaudi, whom the architect of the complex recognizes as his inspiration.
The passageway that unites the arboreal structure with the caves.
Gaudí Revival in Vietnam
The daughter of a Communist ex-president constructs a “crazy house” with her gaze settled on the Catalonian architect
El País: Gaudí resucita en Vietnam
Zigor Aldama reporting from Dalat, Vietnam November 28, 2011
It has the impossible organic forms, the Neo-Gothic details taken to excess, and the incoherent spaces: from a claustrophobic catwalk to a colossal room. Nor it is lacking the grays and soft ochers splashed with some notes of color. The work is doubtless inspired by nature: this is similar to a gigantic tree with branches serving as handrails; that is a cave with stalactites and stalagmites; hanging everywhere are big spider webs – both artificial and real ones – functional toadstools, and monsters with brilliant red eyes.
To be honest, some of its corners provoke shivers: at night, the gates screech, and the windows stare fixedly as if they were the eyes of faces drawn on the facades. Yes, one could imagine it to be a work of Antoni Gaudí, although some elements of this “crazy house” (casa loca) are more reminiscent of the melting clocks of the surrealist Salvador Dalí. But surely neither of the two Catalonian artists ever heard the name of the city that took in this building which brusquely breaks with the duality imposed by its European colonial architecture and sober Communist delineation: Dalat, Vietnam.
It’s no wonder the hostel Hang Nga, The Moon’s Sister, has become one of the principal tourist attractions in this unusual city, a former mountain retreat for French colonists. The establishment, inaugurated in 1990, was designed by Dang Viet Nga (born in Vietnam in 1940), daughter of the president of the State Council from 1981 to 1988, Truong Chinh, who received a doctorate in architecture from the University of Moscow. Following in the footsteps of the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) basilica in Barcelona, it is still under construction, though Dang hopes to complete her masterpiece in a more modest period of time than the Barcelonese cathedral (itself slated for completion in 2026, the centennial of its architect’s death): two years.
The house’s construction has not been the least bit conventional itself. Dang doesn’t draw plans, just sketches and ideas, which eight local artisans, none experienced in architecture, make into reality, supervised by an engineer tasked with keeping the dream from crumbling. Everything is done by hand, including the furniture, which has to complement the always asymmetrical forms of the rooms.
The Chinese official newspaper People’s Daily called the hostel one of the ten strangest buildings in the world, and not in vain: it’s difficult to determine how many floors it has. For Dang, who recognizes that her inspiration is “The Great Gaudí” without batting an idea, the building is just “the union of technique and art”. Nevertheless, the creator recognizes that many officials in the Dalat People’s Committee, her old colleagues, do not approve of her work.
“There have been problems, and I haven’t lacked for people discrediting me as crazy, but fortunately, in Hanoi there are people who understand what I want to achieve.” Thanks to those people, who revoked the local authorities’ prohibition, she received permission to begin construction, 18 years after asking for it. Now the building is a money magnet.
For a modest sum (20-60 euros), one can spend the night in one of the rooms, “which are similar to tree houses and have different characteristics.” For example, the tiger room, designed for Chinese guests who adore kitsch, the eagle room, made more spacious to accomodate the volumnious bodies of Americans, and the ant room, in honor of the laborious work that made Vietnam imperialism’s worst nightmare.
The suite is dedicated to the bee, which symbolizes the collaborative union of living beings which can add up to a little cascade. “There are bees in every country, and this habitation does not have a nationality. It represents the world coming together to make a better world.” Visitors are coming from every corner of the planet; those who only want to have a look need only pay 30,000 dong ($1.43) for entry.
There are more than a few people coming to see it. The “crazy house” is already an obligatory stop for all the travelers seeking fresh air in Dalat. “I didn’t expect to find soething like this in Vietnam, much less in Dalat,” Miguel Saavedra, a Spanish tourist, wrote in the guestbook. “This building is like a dream that’s out of place, and I admire the bravery of its architecture. But not all share his enthusiasm. Dang’s cement insanity has provoked debate. Some of her colleagues have openly criticized it in the Vietnamese press, saying it does not have aesthetic cohesion or functionality. These aren’t empty words: a blueprint like this would be swiftly rejected in Spain for not satisfying any safety requirements. If you had one drink too many here, it could easily be your last.
But this fairy tale, which would often remind Anglo-Saxons of Walt Disney’s creations, has practically unlimited resources, and it is continuing to transform. The number of rooms is growing though the hostel does not have a very good reputation among those who have spent the night there. “Most complain that the beds are too hard, and the visitors are too noisy from the first light of morning onward,” says Trang Hung, a local tour guide. “And there are also people who say they were frightened,” she adds with a laugh.