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Long Bien Bridge preservation divides planners

Update: December, 12/2014 - 08:04

Bridging differences: Architects and cultural managers have been discussing Long Bien Bridge's future. Some want to preserve the bridge for pedestrians, while others suggest it should be transformed into a museum. — VNS Photo Truong Vi

HA NOI (VNS) — Architecture and cultural managers discussed Long Bien Bridge's future at a seminar held on Wednesday in Ha Noi.

Long Bien could be turned into a bridge for pedestrians, or it could be transformed into a giant museum, the attendees said.

Viet Nam Urban Planning and Development Association (VUPDA) hosted the seminar as the Ha Noi People's Committee was proposing the bridge become a national historical relic. It gathered delegates to suggest solutions for preserving the bridge.

As planned, a new steel bridge will be built in the vicinity to replace the Long Bien Bridge, which is currently used for trains and light traffic like walking and cycling.

According to local media reports, recent surveys indicate that Long Bien Bridge was falling into disrepair.

Early this year, the Ministry of Transport had proposed the city destroy the bridge and build a new one, but Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung decided to preserve it as a cultural symbol.

The bridge is not just a road – it's a living historical relic. It was constructed between 1899 and 1902 while France occupied Viet Nam. It was the first steel bridge built across the Red River in Ha Noi, and one of four greatest bridges in the world at that time. The French first named it Paul Doumer Bridge, but Viet Nam changed its name to Long Bien Bridge.

Long Bien serves as a daily reminder of an unforgettable past. It was used to transport weapons and goods from the north to the centre of Viet Nam during the battle against the French. It was bombed many times by the US between 1967 and 1972. As a result, seven of 19 spans and four large pillars were destroyed.

An analysis by Phan Huu Son, the general director of Transport Engineering Design Inc., shows that in order to revamp the bridge, the city would need to restore the spans lost or destroyed during wartime – which would be very expensive.

"In current tight economic conditions, it will be a huge waste to funnel money into a pedestrian-only bridge like Long Bien," Son said. "Experience from developing countries indicates that this project should use money mobilised from the society, rather than the State budget."

Son also said the bridge should act as both a scenic spot and a road, as the city is badly in needs of bridges spanning the Red River banks.

However, Son's opinion was not greatly welcome, as local cultural researchers said they would prefer to turn the hundred-year-old bridge into pedestrian walkway.

"Da Nang and HCM City are planning to build bridges spanning the Han and Sai Gon rivers to highlight the city's beauty," said Tran Ngoc Chinh, an architect and chairman of the Viet Nam Urban Planning and Development Association. "We should keep the bridge a tourist attraction of the city, as it connects to the city's history and culture."

From bridge to art

Vietnamese-French architect Nguyen Nga proposed a project that would transform Long Bien into a cultural art space.

"Instead of reminding us of our wartime past, which resulted in so many losses, the bridge could be a symbol of hope and culture, beautifying Ha Noi, the city of peace," she said.

She suggested the city repair the bridge's destroyed spans, and then cover it in glass and turn it into a giant museum. One part would exhibit traditional craft village works and an old steam train. Trees and streetlights would create a picturesque scene along the bridge. In addition to the exhibitions, the museum would have a library, concert hall, cafes and restaurants.

Dao Ngoc Nghiem, former chief architect of Ha Noi and vice chairman of the VUPDA, didn't express any sympathy for the project.

In his opinion, restoring the spans will cost a lot and isn't necessary. The project would demolish an entire century of history contained in the bridge, he said.

"The resistance against the US and the process of repairing the bridge in several days when it was destroyed in the wartime have become a legend to be proud of in our national history," he said. "The bridge is an important milestone in the development of Ha Noi. It's also a historical witness, as it saw French troops leaving Ha Noi after their defeat and also amazingly withstood the US bombardment."

It's not necessary to showcase Ha Noi's culture and history throughout the length of the bridge, Nghiem said. There is enough space throughout Ha Noi to build more arts museums, flower gardens and other spaces, he said. — VNS



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