This Modern House Has a Sun-Shading Skin of Traditional Terracotta Tiles

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When it comes to constructing buildings in a more sustainable way, using materials that are…

When it comes to constructing buildings in a more sustainable way, using materials that are found locally is an important step toward reducing the overall carbon footprint of the building industry. That’s because locally sourced materials like wood are lower in embodied carbon than their more resource-intensive cousins like concrete and metal, which have to be extracted, processed, and transported from far away.

While using local materials is one way that the building industry can tackle embodied carbon, it’s also a way to preserve a region’s traditional building techniques, which are often (and necessarily) well-adapted to the peculiarities of the local climate and geography.

Vietnamese design firm H&P Architects—seen here previously for their intriguing prototype for a disaster-resistant house—takes the strategy of using the locally sourced material of terracotta tile but reconstitutes it into the new and unexpected form of a family home that is simultaneously porous and private.

H&P Architects


Dubbed the Tile Nest House, the structure is located in a new urban development in the city of Phu Ly, in the province of Ha Nam. According to the architects, the home is situated close to a former cemetery, which meant that the top layer of soil on the site had to be excavated.

This created a distinctive ground floor that is slightly sunken in, reminiscent of a pit house from prehistoric times, while also allowing for the future possibility of harnessing geothermal energy in the future. As the designers explain:

“[T]he house communicates the idea of creating a space, a blend of the Nest with many nooks and crannies finding all their ways up to the ground, and the Ancient Pit House partially hidden underground. This combination gives the house’s architecture a distinct corrugated appearance, with the shell felt like porous [or] perforated on the outside, and large space on the inside.”

Indeed there is an interesting combination of newer building technologies with ancient materials here. The building’s outermost layer and exterior envelope consists of a “skin” of suspended terracotta tiles held in place by a customized framework of metal rebar struts. These tiles not only serve a visual purpose to “dress up” the building but also to provide passive sun shading as in traditional Vietnamese homes.

H&P Architects


As the architects note:

“For a long time, tile has become a familiar and popular material with Vietnamese people, yet it is applied to this house in an unusual way to make its presence felt by seeing through, touching and sensing properties, thereby creating different but close experiences in the space of flower-like patterns from sunshine reflection, wind and scent of plants—an architecture immersed in nature, realized by a ‘full-of-memory’ personality.”

H&P Architects



There are strategically placed openings in the tile skin—windows that open up clear views out toward the surrounding landscape.

H&P Architects


The entrance to the home is tucked away from the sun.

H&P Architects


The middle layer of the home is a transitional space between outdoors and indoors, and is made up of a series of balconies packed with greenery, which also help to regulate the interior temperature of the home.

H&P Architects


In contrast to the exterior, the inside feels much cooler and well-shaded, thanks to its tiled layer. Here we stand in the open-plan living room and dining room, which feels quite spacious and open, especially with all the curtains and sliding glass doors open.

H&P Architects


Here we see how the hanging skin of tiles helps to create a buffer zone of sun shading, punctuated with plants. One may imagine that these plants may someday grow to cover parts of the exterior layer to create a wall of living greenery.

H&P Architects


Various voids in between the floor slabs give the inhabitants visual connection within the home’s interior volume. Like the exterior, some interior walls are made of terracotta tiles that have been stacked to create a tactile experience.

H&P Architects


The bedrooms are cozy and dark, thanks to the passive cooling effect of the sun-shading layer of tiles.

H&P Architects


At night, this porous skin of tiles creates a beautiful lantern-like effect, where the artificial lights of the interior shine invitingly out of this permeable house.

H&P Architects


It’s not often that one sees terracotta tiles used in this unexpected way—here in the Tile Nest House, they hint at a storied past while also suggesting that there’s a bright future in such traditional materials. To see more, visit H&P Architects.

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