Bringing Green To Cities With Sustainable Tree House Design


With populations growing and cities needing to expand upwards, more trees are being cut down as a way to make room for the housing demand. Slowly, piece-by-piece, cities are becoming more grey and gloomy, not to mention hot with the abundance of concrete.

Rooftop gardens are definitely not a new idea, especially in city areas. What is a new idea however, is turning a concrete slab house into a massive pot plant and encouraging people to live in it.

Ho Chi Minh City is the biggest and busiest part of Vietnam. With the population of Vietnam growing by 3.4 per cent per year, urbanisation is becoming what may be seen as a serious competitor for the vegetative areas.

Even though 3.4 per cent may not seem like a staggering number compared to the population rates of other countries, Ho Chi Minh City is only covered by 0.25 per cent vegetation, according to

Vo Trong Nghia Architects, which is particularly alarming for a city that is surrounded by rainforest.

This is where the idea for Vo Trong Nghia Architects project ‘House for Trees’ comes from. The project was undertaken by the firm as a way to increase the level of green seen in the city.
The project
The project started in 2014 as a way to help current and future generations remain close with nature, even as urbanisation continues around them.

In a small part of the city, five concrete houses were built. On top of them, soil and trees that can be found in the rainforest outside the city were placed on top of the building to grow.

The buildings were designed especially for the project, are made of concrete, and feature a bamboo design on the outside of the houses, with exposed brick inside.

This was done using local and natural building products, as a way to minimise the carbon footprint of the project. All up, building the prototypical houses and planting the trees, the entire project cost $156,000 USD (approximately $137,000 AUD).


The house structure
Many people have said that the idea of planting trees on the rooftops is a terrible idea, due to it being rather well known that some plants and trees can ruin the structure and strength of the building.

The tree roots are a common cause of structural damage, which is why trees with mostly above ground roots have been chosen, so that they aren’t looking to burying themselves underneath house, causing it to shift. Falling trees is another cause of housing damage, which is why the trees are held in place with wiring to prevent them from falling.

As the trees and soil would be quite heavy, it is important that the house is able to withstand the weight especially over a long period of time.

By building the houses with a load-bearing wall structure, which is uncommon for traditional Vietnamese houses, it has allowed the 1.5-metre thick oil and trees to be placed on the roof without having to worry about it caving in.

They have also implemented a water catcher into the roof of the houses, allowing water to be stored for the trees, which will allow them to be self-sustainable. This may also help to prevent any flooding of the city streets in the future.

The design combines the small spaces of Vietnamese living, as well as strength and good structure, allowing the trees and people to live together without any major complications.


The aim
When Vo Trong Nghia and the architectural team first thought of the idea to turn concrete slabs into houses and those houses into pot plants, it was probably seen as an idea that shouldn’t have left the board meeting.

However, they were hoping that by forcing people to live closely with the trees and plants, it may force people back into having a close connection with nature, and may possibly encourage people to stop urbanisation overtaking the city.

The design and idea of the project won the 2014 World Architecture Festival Award, beating out 16 other entrants for the award. It was awarded to House for Trees after the judges saying it “House for Trees is a generous and ecologically sensitive response to the intensity of urbanisation.”

For now, it is only a prototype that has been designed and built, but there is the possibility for this to become a future way of having people cohabit the city with plants and trees. By combining urbanisation and nature, not only will it allow for clearer air, but it will also add more life and colour to the city

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