Villages built out laterite are typical of Vietnam’s Northern Midlands.
The thick layer of soil located under residual soil is called laterite. Rich in iron and aluminum, laterite is formed in hot and wet tropical areas for generations, Vietnamese people have used this durable material to build houses that are able to adapt to different weather conditions.
In My Huong village near the tranquil river of Tich Giang in the Chuong My District of greater Hanoi, the harvest is over. Muscular young men armed with spades and shovels go off in search of laterite. Digging laterite requires a special type of spade called a “th³”. This spade made ¬ iron and measures about two meters long. The lower edge resembles that of a shovel but is split in two and called the “lÄn th³”.
The “lÄn th³” used to chip laterite into pieces. A laterite brick used for construction normally measures 30x16x15 cm. on the upper edge of the spade lie smaller wings called “©n th³” that allow the workers to chip the laterite accurately.
As they have done for generations, young men of marriageable age flock to the fields in search of laterite with which to build their own house. It takes at least a month of hard work to produce enough bricks for a small house. Only workers with at least five years of experience can produce larger bricks that measure 40×20 cm.
The Thach That district in greater Hanoi is known as “the capital of laterite”. The name “Thach That” actually means “the zone of laterite – built houses”. In this area, laterite buildings are everywhere. Hundreds of laterite blocks surround the Tay Phuong Pagoda (built between 865 – 873AD) and form the 237 stairs that lead up to it.
In Duong lam village rough and raw bricks are stacked to make walls. Those bricks create simple beauty that gives visitors a glimpse of the past. Passerby is enthralled by the earthy yellow laterite walls gleaming in the sunset.
Vietnam’s Northern Midlands Region is home to seven ethnic groups: the Kinh, Muong, Nung, Cao Lan, San Diu, Chinese and Dao. Only the Dao do not use laterite to build their houses.
While urbanization has replaced traditional architecture with cold cement buildings and simple beauty. Laterite can be chipped into small pieces to make walls. Using laterite can cut costs and add artistic value to a house. Large laterite bricks create a sense of solidity and strength. In the garden of the Dam Sen Club inQuang Ba, Hanoi, laterite has even been turned into statues. With their melting colors, these statues are mysterious and deeply moving.
This article written by Lanh Nguyen from Vietnam Heritage Travel
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