In our forthcoming book "Southern Vietnamese Modernist Architecture," we make the claim that the mid-century modern architecture in Vietnam continues the Vietnamese identity established in traditional Vietnamese architecture. The French architecture professors of École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine in Hanoi (Fine Arts College of Indochina, begun in 1925) had their Vietnamese students study traditional Vietnamese architecture so that it could inform their development of following architecture. The professors were looking forward to a mix of French Beaux-Arts architecture and traditional Vietnamese architecture, exemplified by the Indochine Style of French-colonial architecture developed in the 1920s. But the Vietnamese students jumped ahead to modernist architecture, including art deco variations.
But they did retain Vietnamese identity in their new modernist architecture? A look at several examples of traditional Vietnamese architecture suggests that they did. Consider the Dền Bà Kiệu in Hanoi, a temple constructed in the 1620s. This building is typical of many temples and community halls throughout Vietnam. The photograph shows a restrained architecture that emphasizes the darkness of the veranda in relation to the lightness of the roof and the structural columns. The structure is the post and beam frame that became the primary feature of Vietnamese modernist architecture. The colors are muted earth tones. These features are what distinguished traditional Vietnamese architecture from Chinese architecture, and therefore created Vietnamese identity.
Any number of Vietnamese modernist buildings meet these same criteria, but this beautiful architectural photography [© 2019 by Alexandre Garel] of a Mekong Delta house makes it very clear.