23 March 2007

Construction Begins

I had six weeks of total quiet at my house, which was sheer heaven. The last house across the street was finished six months ago, but the crazy neighbor in the penthouse above me kept his renovations going until mid-February. Two weeks ago, they started a new house.

Compared to jackhammers above your head for six to eight hours a day, the building being done outside is nothing. And the only really bad part is when they bring in the tile cutter and you have to shut the windows and crank up the music to block the high-pitched, ear-shattering whine. Everything else requires mostly manual labor so the noise is livable.

I have always been fascinated with the way in which they build houses in Vietnam, and this time I am photo-documenting the entire process. I get up every morning, lean out the window, check out the progress and snap pictures. This is the fourth house I have watched go up and is by far the most professional job I have seen.

A few months ago, a crew came in to build the piers which are later sunk into the earth. The frames are built from steel wire that is hand made. There must be wood involved, but I can’t seem to remember how they do it. Once the forms are laid out side by side, the concrete is poured. You see rows of these piers on empty lots all over my neighborhood.

Two days before they sunk the piers, a pile driver and truck with a collapsible arm were brought in, along with about fifteen immense blocks of concrete. Then at 6am, they day construction started, I looked out my window to see two small tables set up with offerings to the god that the land belongs to. There were flowers, and rice and what looked like a grilled chicken. I counted about seven people milling about. Of all the houses I have seen go up, I had never witnessed this before. I quickly took pictures, then took a shower, and rushed back to the window to see if there was going to be some sort of religious ceremony. Much to my surprise, the tables were empty, and the grilled chicken was being taken away by a man driving a motorbike; right hand driving, left hand grasping a greasy chicken. I thought maybe this was a service that you could hire to set up a blessing ceremony, and as soon as they finished, they gathered the supplies and rode on to the next house.

I watched for two or three days as the truck with the crane arm lifted these multi-ton blocks onto either side of the pile driver. It would then swing around and someone would attach one of the piers. The pier is then placed inside the metal frame and pounded into the earth. It is really scary to watch these men hanging off equipment three stories above the ground, and ducking out of the way of the stabilizing blocks.

The next day started with the crew digging out around the piers, probably about three or four feet deep. Then, with sledge hammers, the knocked off the concrete that was exposed. It was at this point that I realized that this was to be a double wide house.

While this was going on, they had also started to build the shack that the crew will live in. Even though this is a very professional crew, larger than most, and all with uniform shirts, their hut is not very good. I have seen everything from a lean-to, to something close to a mobile home. This is somewhere in between.

Phase four was digging the foundation, six feet down, with only shovels, about two days of work. The holes were lined with bricks then filled with concrete. I didn’t see them pour the concrete so don’t know if it was from a truck, which it usually is with large patches. Smaller areas are down by hand mixing the concrete.

This is the dry season so drying concrete is usually in no danger. Except that this year, the weather seems a little off. Just a few hours after the concrete had been poured the rains started. The crew ran about covering over the fresh pour. And it was pouring, for four hours straight.

Today they are busy hand building more steel concrete frames and placing them in various spots on the foundation. They are working at a rapid pace, so they should be done in four or five months.
I wonder how they will ever build the houses that are to go on either side of this one. With this house, they used five empty lots to maneuver the cranes and trucks. They will have zero space to do that with the other houses.

Updates to follow.