Americans’ mindset of architecture

Why the streets of the United States, the symbol of a free country, rarely drench in floods?

When the Americans build a city, they follow the concept of a chessboard, a combination of vertical and horizontal lines similar to the layout of the chessboard. For a city to reach a state of harmony, the architects also think of planning the way in and out in a scientific manner; therefore, power, water and cable lines are neatly arranged.

Roads in the U.S. are famous for their durability. Though thousands of heavy trucks passing through every day, these roads could last for nearly 200 hundred years. An unusual thing about the streets in the U.S. is that they do not need renovation. Preserving nature is another characteristic of the world’s largest economy. At the heart of Washington D.C. are vast vegetable farms which could hardly be seen in Hanoi or Saigon. These farms act as natural drainage and oxygen providers.

An obvious architectural feature of Catholic countries is logic. French naval Favre ordered the construction of parallel streets, which is why the Saigonese do not have much problems in finding addresses. However, there is a big contrast between Ho Chi Minh City and Binh Duong, its bordering province. Unlike its neighbor, Bing Duong is influenced by Buddhist architecture, with streets crossing each other in a manner bearing the resemblance to the spider web. Once, a successful friend in my neighborhood invited me to his house. “You must follow my instruction or else you will get lost. In Binh Duong, you cannot find addresses by just follow the house number”, he said. This little example shows the distinguishing architectural feature between Catholicism and Buddhism.

In the past, Saigon had an unwritten law on construction which was all building construction could not exceed the top of the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon. The city did not experience floods. Under the influence of Buddhist architecture, there are no construction principles, leading to unorganized civil buildings. A small rain could submerge the city. Mr. Do Nhu Ly, a mechanical engineer, did not study about construction, made a down to earth comment: “In architecture, ratio is the key. In planning, the key is direction, terrain, geomorphology and the size of the population! And in construction, it is technology. It is a pity that, for years, our architecture and planning failed to have failed to incorporate those features! For instance, since 1975, Saigon still not have a proper geological map and topographic map, and the city planners’ only intention is to divide the land into smaller lots for financial gains. Without the attention of the authorities, sewages are clogged with garbage; streets are flooded after rain, and houses are tilted.” The Germans hire an architecture when it comes to building a house. Where one could not hire an architectural expert, the authority will assign an architecture with no costs, implying that sketchy construction is not allowed.

The forefathers of the Americans form the nation by means of negotiation. The presence of vast fertile plains, six large rivers and open-pit gold mines lay ground for their Catholic civilization which could not exert such influences on the Old Continent. The prefix “New” in the names of their cities literally means “new”. New York is the new York, and the new Jersey is New Jersey. The same applies to New Holland and New England. What could not be done in Europe can now be done in America.

Therefore, immigrants to the U.S. seek refuge for culture, neither economics nor education. Every talent on this globe desire to immerse themselves in American culture.

The army’s salute is influenced by the culture of Great Britain, a Catholic country, and every arm force follow this sign of respect, meaning they all voluntarily take in the Anglo-American culture. In military partnership, the U.S. requires their partner to follow their standards, for example, wearing American suit.

Therefore, military personnel in Dong Nai Province love to send their children to church preschools. They realize that Catholic culture benefits their children as they are taught to show respect to the others. On the contrary, these parents could not see the dark side of the culture in which their children immerse.

Meanwhile, in Ha Tinh, frankly speaking, even in parishes, people are still being influenced by the ideology and social organization of Buddhism. Buddhism has existed in Vietnam for 2400 years, while its counterpart, Catholic, has only entered Vietnam for 400 years. This is why the remnants of Buddhism are ubiquitous. To revive the native culture of the Vietnamese, the abroad students in Western countries have declared that they shall, when they have the chance, redesign the structure of Vietnamese villages, making it similar to those in Jewish culture. The organization of the Jew’s Kibbutzim bears the resemblance to the villages of native Vietnamese.

The modern architecture of the Vietnamese depends on the teachings of Chinese fengshui masters. This type of architecture cannot event compare to that of the Nguyen Dynasty. People in Hue build their houses in a scientific way. They choose the right wind and water flow, so that their family member is wealthy and healthy. Strangely, every household in Hue has their house harmonious with the surrounding scenery.

Ton Phi.
Author is a journalist in VietNam.

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