"˜Crazy House' restores architect's sanity
The "Crazy House" located on Huynh Thuc Khang Street in Da Lat Town
Whatever its merits or demerits, or its connotations, the name has stuck.
For as long as it stands, it is likely to be known in Vietnam as the Crazy House.
It is not absolutely clear whether the name was decided on by its designer or if she adopted what people were calling it anyway.
Whatever its sanity quotient, the house has attracted the tag of one of the world's most bizarre buildings and, not surprisingly, heaps of controversy with every shade of opinion, ranging from its-a-monstrosity-and-an-eyesore-that-should-be-pulled-down to its-a-creative-masterpiece-that-should-be-celebrated and everything between, expressed and debated ad nauseum.
The house does not stand by itself though. It comes with the story of a brave woman, now 72, who has paid a stiff price for sticking to her creative guns no matter what anyone else said or threatened to do to her project.
Hang Nga Crazy House is located on Huynh Thuc Khang Street in Da Lat town in the central highlands province of Lam Dong.
Since it was built in 1990 by architect Dang Viet Nga, the site has stood out from all other structures in the country, especially from the French colonial villas and new houses styled on them.
It also looks lonely, like its owner and designer.
Nga, who earned a doctorate degree in architecture in Moscow in the 1970s, is the daughter of Truong Chinh, who was the General Secretary of the Communist Party from 1941-1960 and president of the country from 1981-1987.
From a distance, the strange building that covers an area of 2000 square meters looks like a humungous dead tree trunk. Apparently, a real tree trunk is indeed the house's starting point, from where it develops unexpected twists and turns, with real outgrowths of trees and plants meant to give it an authentic look.
The building has ten rooms with different themes, including Eagle, Pheasant, and Bamboo. It carries its unconventional nature in all its interior features, whether they are the uneven glass windows and cave-shaped stairs and paths that wind their way between animal statues of a giraffe and a giant spider web.
Nga says Crazy House is still a work in progress, implying that creativity cannot be limited.
After finishing her studies abroad, Nga returned to Vietnam and worked at the Institute of Architecture and Design in Hanoi until 1983, when she moved to Da Lat, drawn by its cool climate and picturesque landscapes. This was a time when it had not become the huge tourist attraction it is now.
"I love Da Lat and will spend the rest of my life here, Nga said, "after working on several buildings for the government, I want to fulfill my dream and focus on creativity in art."
She said her father's spirit has influenced and inspired her to work diligently. He always encouraged her to pursue her career and her dreams, she said, adding that his death in 1988 pushed her to do what she wanted although she didn't have much money then.
She played the rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul game for a while, borrowing from her friends and paying them back with loans taken from local banks and vice versa.
"Money problems and debts drove me crazy then, but I believed in what I was, and am doing," Nga said.
"I want to develop a new, fresh perspective on architecture, introduce diversity into the designing of buildings in Vietnam while being practical and logical."
When it was completed in 1992, Crazy House was criticized for its lavishness and a style that "was not compatible with Da Lat's landscape."
There were locals who wanted to tear it down after they successfully destroyed architect Lu Truc Phuong's 100-roofed house that aimed to represent Lac Long Quan and Au Co, the legendary ancestors of Vietnamese people.
"In 1993, many people informed me of their intention [to break the house down]. They didn't understand what I was doing and were not willing to understand my ideas. They did not want to give a new face to the town," Nga said.
Nga wrote a letter to Do Muoi, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Viet Nam from 1991 to 1997, explaining her idea and asking for his help.
She said she is not sure if her letter won the leader's heart, but she was allowed to keep the building and in 2007, after 17 years, the Crazy House got official approval from the government.
Ten years ago, before the approval, the house was isolated and abandoned, reflecting its owner's weariness after years of working on a project nobody understood.
"I spent all of what I earned for it and will continue working on it to the end of my life. The construction will never end as long as I find happiness in being creative."
Nga's singular effort has since borne fruit, at least financially. More than 100,000 curious visitors visit the house every year. Many choose to spend a night or two in the house's special rooms.
"Crazy House survives thanks mostly to the appreciation of both locals and foreigners, especially artists," she said.
This year, tax from ticket sales could go up to VND200 million (US$9,700).
"I am no long tired for I believe sooner or later, works of art will be appreciated and earn their rightful place."