The story behind Vietnam's 'Crazy House' photosession

Wild, weird, wonderful... there are many ways to describe the Crazy House (also known as Hang Nga Guesthouse) in Dalat, a relaxed mountain resort town in southern Vietnam. Standing in stark contrast to Dalat's French colonial villas, the bizarre avant garde guesthouse is a maze of spiral staircases, sculptural bedrooms, undulating surfaces, swirls of bright colors, narrow bridges and hidden nooks. The artist behind the structure, 79-year-old Dang Viet Nga, says it's the ultimate expression of her imagination.

An exercise in creativity

After earning a PhD in architecture in Moscow, Dang worked for several years in Russia then moved to Hanoi, where she worked on government projects. On a business trip to Dalat, Dang says she fell in love with the lush landscape, cooler climate and kind people and hoped to eventually move there. In 1983, she relocated to Dalat with her then 8-year-old son, Nguyen Viet Thang. After years of working on state-owned developments, which afforded little creativity, she felt compelled to unleash her imagination.

In February 1990, she drew up plans for Crazy House. But instead of blueprints, she created a series of paintings to communicate her fantastical vision. As a form of expressionist architecture, the house has no right angles but rather organic forms that are designed to mirror natural elements, like mushrooms, shells, caves and spiderwebs. When it came time to construct the house, Dang used various types of materials, including steel, wood and concrete. Less than a year later, the guesthouse was open for business and welcoming its first guests.

Closer to nature

Today, Crazy House feels like woodland fantasy brought to life. An elevated main house, which looks like it belongs in Hansel and Gretel, sits in the center of an open courtyard, surrounded by four enormous tree houses.

At first glance, the surreal structures recall mind-bending scenes from a Salvador Dali painting or perhaps even the organic works of modernist Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. The playful style continues within the tree houses, where 10 guest rooms -- each named after an animal or type of plant -- are full of organic shapes, cavern-like beds, and wooden seating areas.

"Reconnecting nature is one message that I want to communicate with the house," says Dang. "But it's also a message to others to think outside of the box. Don't limit yourself by the rules and the expectations -- free your mind and let your imagination run wild."

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