The Paradox of the HANOI Development
Samba Ichsanna WIDHYASTUTI
Vietnam’s modern history has been characterised by three phases: colonialism, war and socialism. The impact of all
these historical phases is evident in the social, economic and political life of the nation. No Vietnamese city, however,
incorporates the legacy of history as Hanoi does and this is particularly marked in these times of changes for the city.
The city of Hanoi is undergoing important changes in both political and economic spheres and all this will have impacts
on the morphology and future growth of the city.
Introduction Hanoi’s history dates back more than one thousand years. It has
Cultural heritage in Hanoi has been shaped by conflicts between enjoyed the status of capital city since 1010 A.D., a status shortly
institutions, land development control, planning and heritage laws. interrupted with the transfer of the capital to Hue but again regained
Being the capital city and being also a rapidly expanding urban area, with French colonialism and reconfirmed in 1954 by the Vietnamese
Hanoi is attracting particular attention both at the national and Socialist Government. (Logan, 1995, p.328).
international level. With present reforms, the major changes are just Vietnam’s history is characterised by a Chinese and Vietnamese
beginning and any attempt to understand the present landscape of feudal period followed by a modern period, during which French
the city and its future growth should take into consideration the colonialism and American involvement led to long years of war. The
following issues and problems. There are complicated social recent years of independence were characterised by Soviet
changes as a result of commercialisation of a neo-Stalinist system. influence in political and cultural areas ( Gillespie & Logan, 1994,
(Forbes, 1991,p.100), Spatial issues and housing and heritage, p.96).
which led to problems of insufficiency in capital involvement and The city of Hanoi, more than any other Vietnamese city, is
international assistance because of the continuing US embargo representative of the different periods of Vietnam’s history. Its urban
against Vietnam during the last two decades, lack of an adequate environment represents a townscape of great heritage value. In
infrastructure, lack of adequate market economy managerial particular the buildings and streetscapes of the “Old Sector”
know-how, the fact that several state units can be run only through incorporate most of the elements that make Hanoi so distinguished.
subsidies. (Forbes,1991,p116 & Anh, 1994, p.66).), during and Despite the long years of war and unlike other Vietnamese cities,
after the war there was heavy migration from rural provinces and Hanoi did not suffer large scale physical devastation. Particularly the
Hanoi’s municipal population has increased by 400 percent -today it Old Sector remains relatively intact, with its streets patterns,
amounts to about 3 million. streetscapes and historic monuments still preserved (Gillespie &
Most of this population is found in suburban districts, however Logan, 1995, p.96).
all over Hanoi there is an acute shortage of housing. War conditions, a stagnant economy due to communist rule and a
The Vietnamese Architects Association estimated that in 1991 prolonged U.S. embargo meant lack of pressure on building
more than 100.000 people were living in provisional shelters. development, despite Hanoi’s growing population and poor living
Similarly in the Old Sector of the city the population density has conditions. Today, with the introduction of Doi-Moi, the city reflects a
risen to 1.5 square meters per person. different environment where opportunities are recognised and
This situation presents two major issues in the development of the innovation is welcome. However the present situation presents also
city: housing and heritage conservation. An active economic economic and social problems, typical in any transition period. One
environment, overcrowding and poor infrastructure have created a of the major dilemmas facing Hanoi’s authorities and planners is
need for housing and highlighted the urgency of heritage represented by the Old Sector and its heritage value, the
conservation. opportunities it presents and the threats on its fabric. There are three
distinct quarters in the Old Sector of Hanoi.
The Paradox of the Hanoi Development.
From a cultural point of view Hanoi is a unique city. Its townscape
has a multilayered aspect and each layer contrastingly represents Three distinct quarters in the Old Sector of Hanoi.
different historical periods of foreign political and cultural domination. The city of heritage in Hanoi is represented by these three quarters:
These layers however are not only physical “political icons”, but they the area of 36 commercial streets or ancient quarter, the french
are also representative of the ability of the Vietnamese people to quarter, and the ba dinh or citadel quarter. All these places are
adapt and incorporate foreign culture, while at the same time located in the northeast part of the city area.
preserving their own.
The Area of 36 Commercial Streets or Ancient Quarter
Located north of Hoan Kiem Lake, this quarter was originally The cultural heritage
founded as an area for artisan guilds and each street still bears the Proper conservation of these cultural resources presents benefits
name of the specialised guild that initially was operating there. both in the social and economic sense.
With the influx of Chinese merchants in the 17th century, the area The cultural assets in Hanoi could provide a basis for the tourism
evolved to a settlement with a particular street pattern. During the industry, which potentially could become an important component of
French colonial period modifications to the street patterns were the national economy. On the other hand, from a social point of view
made. In a similar way house types have undergone a progression the protection of the Old Sector will:
of change over time. Nevertheless the Ancient Quarter, with help arrest the decline in the cultural value of Hanoi;
remnants of brick and timber structures from the 9th up to the 20th add to the human dignity of residents;
century, its “tube houses” and old temples and pagodas, retains a help maintain links with the nation’s past;
unique character. improve living conditions by upgrading the urban environment
The main characteristic of this area is the readability of its and by creating employment;
morphology and the combination of early traditional housing with a support the revival of traditional arts and crafts.
20th century European influence. Another characteristic is the scale
of the quarter with its buildings ranging from single to four storeys. Although the importance of conservation is generally recognised, it is
However this pattern is increasingly being interrupted by new only to be expected that some pro - development forces would
structures of up to six storeys. (Australia and West Pacific Network emerge. Foreign investors in particular are nowadays targeting the
for Urban Conservation (AWPNUC), 1994, p.10). French quarter and other interesting sites. There are already some
proposals for Hong Kong, Singapore, Australian and other foreign
The French Quarter investors to build high rise buildings. These proposals relate to key
This area was established mainly as a French settlement and it lies heritage sites in the Old Sector and around the Hoan Kiem and deal
south of Hoan Kiem Lake. Founded as the first western commercial with building with heights ranging from 10 to 24 storeys.
centre, the area is characterised by neoclassical public buildings, a In most cases Hanoi’s professionals oppose similar proposals and
grid of boulevards lined with trees and European villas. All this is recognise the importance of the city’s heritage areas. However, the
complemented with an opera house, parks and squares ( threat that investors might take their capital elsewhere and political
AWPNUC,1994,P.44). pressures might force their hands.
Visibly contrasting with the Ancient Quarter, this European area is an
example of the colonial city, typically structured to serve the interests Conservation initiatives.
and to impose the culture of the metropole. Initiatives for the protection and restoration of Hanoi’s Old Quarter
With the economic depression of the 1930s and following war years, were originally taken by planners at the National Institute for Urban
French building activities came to a halt. Nowadays this area is and Rural Planning (NIURP) in 1989.
characterised by European style building, remaining there as icons Proposals were passed to UNESCO and a project, which had 5 main
of a past colonial era. (Logan, 1994, p.46). objectives, was approved. In addition to the long-term objective of
putting in place the necessary human and administrative resource
The Ba Dinh or Citadel Quarter bases needed to protect Hanoi’s heritage, the project had as
This precinct is located to the north-west of the French Quarter and immediate objectives the identification of Hanoi’s cultural heritage,
represents the core of Hanoi’s history. the formulation of appropriate policies and regulations.
The Citadel was originally built in 1014 A.D. by the king Ly Thai To Both the Vietnamese government and UNESCO approved this
and completely rebuilt at the beginning of the 19th century by project. However the withdrawal of the U.S., UK. and Singapore from
Emperor Gia Long. Later the French demolished some stone UNESCO brought about a cut in the operational budget of the
ramparts and the imperial palace, replacing it with their own military Organisation and the project could not continue. (Logan,
headquarters. Additional buildings consisted of the Governor 1995,pp.332-333).
General’s palace and ministry offices, all this giving the site a Problems
Subsequent changes were the construction of Ho Chi Minh’s Due to the general housing shortage, houses are overcrowded.
mausoleum, the Ho Chi Minh Museum and the headquarters of the This is particularly marked in the Area of 36 Commercial
Vietnamese Communist Party. (Logan,1995,p.331). Streets, where the narrow tube houses are now housing five
Being the heart of national pride and identity and also being the site families.
where different political icons were overlaid, the Citadel is of Lack of maintenance for a long time has resulted in physical
particular significance in Hanoi’s cultural heritage. deterioration. Particularly sanitary conditions are very poor.
Residents’ and government building activities are threatening
the heritage value of the sites. If this is not brought under
control the risk is to lose Hanoi’s cultural patrimony and the What should be done in Hanoi: Heritage re-defined
tourist potential. Some decision-makers in Hanoi have shown the tendency to
Lack of appropriate heritage legislation and enforcement discount the townscape elements dating from the French period.
mechanisms This is shown in the fact that not even one building from the French
Threats from foreign investors. (Logan,1995,pp.332 & quarter has been included in the list of protected sites. This list, in
AWPNUC, p.3). fact, contains only buildings from the Area of 36 Commercial Streets.
Hanoi’s townscape is made of different layers of external cultural
Breaking the Paradox of Development influence and therefore the French influence (and the Soviet as well)
Understanding Conflicts Between Insitutions are an integral part of its heritage. Therefore what is needed is to put
Urban and regional planning in Vietnam takes place at the national such heritage items under legislative protection.
and local levels and this creates conflict and rivalry between Another point in need of clarification regards the built fabric of the
institutions. Ancient Quarter. This is usually considered by many local and
(See Table 1: Conflicts Between Institutions) foreign advisers as if it were centuries old. The fact is that the
Ancient Quarter suffered large-scale destruction in the 1870s and
Land development control again in the battles of 1946 - 1947.
Land is owned by the State A 1933 housing survey of 33 streets in this quarter showed that only
The administrative function of land has been delegated to 7% were built before 1900 and that they were scattered all over the
People’s Committees at provincial, city and district levels area and therefore not forming a compact precinct. In addition 9%
Land use rights are available to state and private companies, were built between 1900 and 1930, while the remaining 84% were
cooperatives and individuals but they may differ in built after this period. We can therefore see that it is not age, scale or
characteristics such as durability or ability to be transferred: design of the buildings that is of primary importance. In this quarter
land use rights allotted for domestic dwellings exist in perpetuity there are only a few pagodas and temples that are worth preserving
and may be freely transferred. on merit of their individual architectural or historic significance.
on the contrary land use rights for commercial purposes cannot The French modified even the old feudal street pattern, streets were
be allotted without approval from the local People’s Committee. widened and drained and footpaths were installed. (Logan, 1995,
although land cannot be owned privately, ownership of pp.337-338). What is therefore mainly needed is the protection of the
improvements (such as buildings) is allowed. way of life and not merely the physical.
The approach should be to consider the cultural landscape. Culture
that is interacting with its environment. Although this interaction has
historic origins, it is continuing today. It is not historic monuments
Planning and heritage laws. that we are considering, rather the significance lies in its actual
With the possibility of having private property rights, development qualities. (Logan, 1995, p.338).
activities have moved from state to private initiatives. The heritage value of old buildings or precincts is widely recognised.
However, particularly in cases like Hanoi, where entire precincts are
The April 1992 “ Planning and Management Ordinance” involved, the issue should be considered very carefully.
provides prescriptive rules for private development which deal When observing the landscape, a foreigner should try to look at it
with bulk, height, shape, location, plot ratio etc. from different perspectives. Surely the first contact with this
A master plan for Hanoi was prepared by the NIURP and landscape will evoke mental images of feudal Chinese or French
approved in 1993. colonial environments, thus reviving icons of the past and perhaps
The “Ordinance on Protection and Usage of Historical, Cultural the architecture of the pagodas will have an exotic aesthetic appeal.
and Famous Places” is in effect from April 1984. (Logan 1995, This way of looking at the landscape will prompt the observer to
p.337). argue for its preservation and any apparent disinterest will be not
As a result of this legislation restoration and renovation started all For the resident, places like the Ancient Quarter of Hanoi provide a
over the country. In Hanoi the NIURP and the Ministry of Information different landscape. This person would look at the buildings as
and Culture jointly carry out the classification of historical buildings. places: places of work or places of rest. That landscape could mean
The “Regulations on Construction Management and Conservation of community warmth or could be a reminder of poverty, thus a
the Old Quarter of Hanoi” were promulgated in order to incorporate landscape to be changed. From this perspective, the different,
heritage matters in the Hanoi Master Plan. sometimes opposite, meanings that different points of view provide
Until now a list of 80 protected buildings has been prepared. This list become evident. Because cultural heritage is not only the past, but
relates to sites in the Area of 36 Commercial Streets but not the also the present.
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