Cơi Nới Chic: Multisensory Encounters with Architecture and its Transformation in Urban Vietnam

04 Apr 2024 02.00 PM - 03.30 PM Alumni, Current Students, Industry/Academic Partners, Prospective Students, Public
Organised by:
Michael Yeo

Balcony extensions—commonly referred to as “cơi nới”—are ubiquitous features of Vietnamese urban landscapes. Based on multisensory ethnography of mass housing, this talk asks: What do changes to the styles of balcony extensions—their design, form, and materiality—reveal about broader cultural and economic shifts taking place in Vietnamese society? What insights might these seemingly ad hoc initiatives offer into people’s aspirations for their living spaces, their urban futures, and the future of socialist architecture aimed at fostering social equality? Tracing the evolution of balcony extensions in dilapidated housing complexes, from the utilitarian construction of “tiger cages” to the chic production of modern cơi nới, the talk explores the creative, and yet unregulated, repurposing of socialist urban space through the lens of class and gender. By arguing for attention to the possibilities afforded by decay, it highlights the unique “balcony culture” that has emerged to symbolize both the precarity and the ingenuity of urban life in post-Đổi mới cities today. 

Christina Schwenkel is Professor of Cultural Anthropology at the University of California, Riverside (USA). She is author of The American War in Vietnam: Transnational Remembrance and Representation (2009, Indiana University Press) and the award-winning historical ethnography, Building Socialism: The Afterlife of East German Architecture in Urban Vietnam (2020, Duke University Press). Her recent work examines soundscapes and multisensory experiences associated with war, disaster, and the built environment in Vietnam. Schwenkel is currently a Fulbright scholar at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, National University in Hồ Chí Minh City.