Socialist Housing in Hanoi: Exploring Its Collective Living Quarters and Experiences of a Resident Family

Vishal Singh Bhadauriya

This book is split into two sections, allowing readers to see "communist housing in Hanoi" from both an insider's and an outsider's vantage point. Both essays examine the construction of communist housing in Hanoi, although the second is more of a case study portraying one family's experience with this housing and the challenges they have in adapting to the system.

The first essay – "The Rise and Fall of Socialist Housing in Hanoi" – is written by Hans Schenk. The essay is written in a way that combines narration and description, such that it seems like the author is telling a story. One of the characters in the essay is telling the events that take place in Hanoi, and it seems that the author is using an "I" or "me" component in some of the passages. He is descriptive in that he details the planning and architectural designs of the socialist dwellings that are often referred to as the Khu Tap The (KTT).

He starts by describing how the idea of KTT came to be implemented in Hanoi and how it developed through time. Multiple factors contributed to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam becoming a socialist state:  the importance of Ho Chi Minh, the independence of northern Vietnam, the support that southern Vietnam received from Western powers, and the support that northern Vietnam received from the Soviet Union and China. The conditions in Vietnam in the years after the war were not very favourable. As a result, exchange programs were implemented, under which a significant number of specialists from the Soviet Union travelled to Vietnam.

At the same time, people from Vietnam travelled to the Soviet Union, and some of them came back to Vietnam as architects after learning about the Microraion residential community. Given that they already had investors from the Soviet Union, they intended to try out the Microraion residential community model in Vietnam. The author also discusses the concept of a Microraion, also known as a "Micro District," in which members of a society would share individual housing spaces while also having access to other communal places (e.g., schools, markets, parks), where activities such as cooking and sanitation would also take place. In addition to this, the article discusses how people responded to the concept, how much the homes cost to rent, and where precisely these sites are. Schenk gives an account of the multiple levels of architectural designs, which varied according to the tenants' respective levels of professional achievement.

The author makes a comparison between two different KTT blocks: Cum-C, which was on the fourth level; and A5, which was on the fifth level. It has been brought to people's attention that these homes did not seem to be attractive since the inhabitants did not seem to care about how they appeared. They only wanted to have a secure roof over their heads. The architecture of these structures was constantly undergoing revisions as time went on. A little further on, some light has been shed on the mechanism that was used to assign the units. Schenk gives an account of the bureaucratic procedures that were followed. He continues by drawing parallels between the communist housing system in Hanoi, the “Landlust” neighborhood in Amsterdam, and the chawls in Mumbai, India.

Gradually, due to a lack of funding and upkeep from the state and ignorance on the part of the occupants, such socialist housing started to slip into disrepair. Even though construction of KTT residences proceeded, only personnel were allowed to live in them. The entire demise of KTT started in 1986, when “Doi moi” economic reform took place and the government of Vietnam, badly in need of monetary funds, announced the privatization of the housing sector. Those individuals who were in a position to purchase their flats were permitted to do so. The remainder were required to leave their homes immediately. It has also been revealed how these sales was conducted, including the pricing, techniques, and system. It has been shown how the deeds were created, both legitimately and criminally. The epilogue briefly summarizes the growth and decline of communist mansions in Hanoi, as well as the influence they had on ordinary people.

In the second section, author Trinh Duy Luan presents a case study. He has been following the public servant family that he has been lodging for the last three decades. Unlike Hans Schenk, he begins with a quick explanation of housing and housing policy before moving on to a more in-depth explanation of socialist subsidised housing in Vietnam. He sheds light on the filtration process in the water supply. He treats the family's experience with the housing system as a case study, complete with a methodology, terminology, and a detailed account of their journey through the system as they advanced in their personal and professional lives. The author chronicles the family's housing progression from a communal apartment, to a smaller apartment, to a bigger apartment, to a self-contained apartment (the pinnacle of subsidized social housing), and eventually to a home that they constructed themselves. This case study meticulously documents the market, the system, the allocation, and the filtering processes.

The writing style of the book is ethnographic. The study and data collection are sufficient, and the procedure has been meticulously followed and documented. There have been ethnographies on other aspects of that location and time that are undoubtedly more fascinating. Documenting the emergence and collapse of communist housing in Hanoi was an alternative strategy, but it was not essential since the concept is not novel. The references and sources support that. The writers make an effort to describe every little detail of the design and living arrangements of the government-subsidized socialist homes, and they are effective in doing so.

Combining two distinct pieces of writing by different authors on the same topic is an intriguing way to construct and produce a book since it illuminates both the objective viewpoint of foreign scholars (in Hans Schenk’s essay) and the subjective viewpoint of locals (in Trinh Duy Luan’s case study). To sum up, the book would be tempting to those who have a preference for technicalities and how a system works rather than the average reader. You may read the book for informational purposes, but even those with an ethnographic taste might desire a little more of passion and drama.