Southern Vietnamese modernist architecture is not brutalist. Brutalism was a style name that was applied to many mid-century modern buildings in Europe and America that featured bare rough concrete. The name originally came from the French words béton-brut, which means raw concrete. Many of Le Corbusier’s works became associated with this term since the elements of his forms used raw concrete showing the formwork marks of the boards. The elements of his compositions were also rather heavy and his major housing projects in France were massive. Over time, these and other designs took on the connotation of brutal. When combined with the public’s perception of soulless modern architecture in the years after World War II, brutalism became a pejorative term.
Today, people are beginning to understand and value this architecture as heritage, and the term brutalist is being applied to many buildings even if they don’t meet the spirit of the term.
Southern Vietnamese modernist architecture is not brutalist. The modern architecture of Vietnam rarely uses raw concrete. The reinforced concrete structural frames are covered with plaster, and the facade surfaces are usually brick faced with plaster. In the mid-century, Vietnamese modernist buildings used a rough form of plaster featuring washed stone embedded in the plaster. But the overall effect of this was still a relatively smooth surface.
Most importantly, southern Vietnamese modern architecture is characterized by its lightness. The structural columns are made as thin as possible. Light thin elements such as sun shades are added that increase the effect of lightness. This lightness is the antithesis of brutalism. This beautiful architectural photograph by Alexandre Garel of the 1960s apartment building at 12 Võ Văn Kiệt Boulevard in Ho Chi Minh City shows that this large building displays very well the lightness of Vietnamese modernist architecture.