The Hanoitimes - "Almost all ancient houses that contain sediments of many generations have gradually disappeared from Hanoians’ minds," lamented painter Nguyen The Son at the recent exhibition "Hanoi Architects and the city".
The painter is afraid that the gradual disappreance of old architectural blocks or collective houses can affect Hanoi’s vista.
Hanoi has the highest number of old apartment buildings in Vietnam, with more than 1,100. After dozens of years of survival, these collective houses have become dilapidated, over-crowded, and dangerous, undermining the safety of thousands of local residents.
However, the disappearance of these historic constructs that stood witness to the ups-and-downs of the city’s history will bring bitter regret to Hanoians and cultural researchers.
Disappearing old collective houses
For those born in the 1950s and 1960s, the series of the four or five-story collective houses on Kim Lien, Pham Ngoc Thach, Nghia Tan, and Nguyen Quy Duc street are a special sight from their childhood. The old zones have stood there since the mid-twentieth century. Nowadays, skyscrapers are coming to dominate the landscape.
In the old days, the first floor of the collective was the place to open shops, grocery stores or restaurants. But recently, these old zones are gradually replaced by high-rise apartment buildings. The remaining few are degraded and the remaining residences shrink in number.
Surveying more than 70 communal houses in the city, painter Nguyen The Son found that many of them have disappeared, while in some, only the upper parts remain.
“Once back from a trip, I was thrilled to see all the advertisements and billboards on the way home from the airport. The scene signals a change in Hanoi’s traditional culture,” Son said.
Hanoi’s Old Quarter also changed a little, with numerous old constructions of unique architecture from the French colonial period being demolished and replaced by high-rise buildings for business and tourism purposes.
Giving special attention to these old collective houses, Jean Noel Poirier—former French ambassador to Vietnam—said: “I think if those Russian architects ever come back to these complexes, they will feel like this was Mars because the city has changed a lot from their initial designs.” Though understanding that these condominiums will gradually disappear from future urban planning, the diplomat still regards the old collective houses as valuable pieces in Hanoi’s treasure box of history.
Treasure ancient architecture
The disappearance of Hanoi’s ancient cultural architecture is due to the selfish minds who are only interested in building and making a profit for themselves. Economic value is now a priority in many people's minds.
"These old collective houses should be kept and gradually turned into sight-seeing destinations or museums," said painter Nguyen The Son. He believes that it is important to respect and preserve the old architecture by developing and renovating them into attractive hubs for the younger generation.
On the other hand, architect Tran Huy Anh said that the city has never witnessed such a huge volume of construction works. The growth of the trading centers and high-rise business buildings is a major issue that requires intervention of not just individuals but society as a whole.