[scroll down for more images]

alt="itinerant architect", "Gordon Hunt", "Lao Chai", "homestay", "chimney"

alt="itinerant architect", "Gordon Hunt", "Lao Chai", "homestay", "chimney"

alt="itinerant architect", "Gordon Hunt", "Lao Chai", "homestay", "chimney"photo by Anh-Thu N

alt="itinerant architect", "Gordon Hunt", "Lao Chai", "homestay", "chimney"
the roof over the kitchen (before)

alt="itinerant architect", "Gordon Hunt", "Lao Chai", "homestay", "chimney"
..and after

alt="itinerant architect", "Gordon Hunt", "Lao Chai", "homestay", "chimney" photo by Anh-Thu N

alt="itinerant architect", "Gordon Hunt", "Lao Chai", "homestay", "chimney"everyone helped haul the sand + blocks

alt="itinerant architect", "Gordon Hunt", "Lao Chai", "homestay", "chimney"
men with babies on bikes with blocks

alt="itinerant architect", "Gordon Hunt", "Lao Chai", "homestay", "chimney"
resultant chimney (photo by Xu Tan)

                                                    © Gordon Hunt 2016. All content by Gordon Hunt unless otherwise stated

Vietnam: Homestay


And so began a two week period in which I lived, ate, worked and relaxed with a family of the Black H’Mong tribe in the highlands of Northern Vietnam. The family treated me extremely well, and for that two week period I was well integrated into their culture. I can’t say that there were any great surprises or culture shock, but these two weeks certainly had their impact upon me—it was an experience I recommend to everyone.

The first task we completed was the simple repair of a portion of roof that had collapsed over the kitchen sink several months prior. This was relatively straightforward and we were able to complete it in just a few hours. While this simple project contributed to a far healthier living environment, there were still several other projects that I identified as important.

Several renovation schemes were discussed as Xú’s top priority was to create a more comfortable homestay environment. Schematic plans were drafted up, and several important design strategies were explained to guide future work. The benefits of design concepts such as views, sense of community, daylight, structure, and drainage were discussed.

As these renovations wouldn’t occur for several months yet (given the inopportune time of year and lack of funds), I focused the bulk of my efforts towards addressing the interior air quality. The current method of cooking and heating was particularly dangerous, and the family wasn’t aware that the smoke and fumes from the fire pit in the middle of the kitchen was slowly poisoning them. The fire pit was also incredibly inefficient at heat retention as there was no thermal mass to prevent the warmth from disappearing into the earth. Plans for a large fireplace and chimney were drawn up as I convinced the family that in addition to improving air quality, the house would become far warmer during the cold, rainy winters. This would then result in a better homestay experience, at which point Xú became fully on board with the project.

When the builder arrived, he spoke no English, and I had to use a combination of drawings (which could only be drawn up in front of him, not prior to his arrival), a digital model on my laptop, and the help of a translator (my friend Anh-Thu who came all the way from Hanoi) to convey something I believed to be extremely simple. It took a couple of hours to convey the design and I left confident that he had understood everything.

When I received the final photos however, it was clear that some changes had been made. I’m not sure if this was a result of Xú changing her requirements again or the builder making adjustments. The component of the hearth to be constructed on the ground (a desperately needed thermal mass for the winter months) was omitted, and the opening was far larger than what I believed was the maximum area required for a properly-functional fireplace. This problem was then compounded even further by the reduction of the opening at the top of the flue – it was simply too small for the size of the fireplace opening. However, this problem can be easily solved by placing boards in front of the fireplace to limit the amount of air intake, thus encouraging the smoke to ascend up the chimney as opposed to inside the room. Despite this concern of mine, one can see from the photo that there is indeed smoke emerging from the top of the chimney, and this is reason enough for optimism.