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Experts warn preservation of traditional architecture ‘urgent'

Update: September, 19/2013 - 10:15
Urban renewal: A nha ruong house in Phuoc Tich Village on the outskirts of Hue has had its roof and street front altered due to the needs of its owner. — VNS Photos Phuoc Buu

by Phuoc Buu

THUA THIEN HUE (VNS)  — The communal house in Viet Nam is traditionally the soul of the community, thus thoughtful preservation of these old houses is essential to keeping traditional cultural values alive and well.

Unfortunately, time waits for no man, so in order to have a new life in modern communities they would need to be restored and protected, said experts at a seminar on conservation of communal houses and traditional architecture held in Hue yesterday.

The conservation experts are calling for thoughtful restoration work to save these traditional architectural gems at a time when authorities in many localities around the country are dismissing them as no longer fit to serve the lives of modern communities.

Other traditional buildings have been given a garish new makeover that is totally out of keeping with their aesthetic character.

"A new, modern coat will never suit a dignified old lady," said Nguyen Huu Thong, a researcher at the Viet Nam Institute of Culture and Arts Study in Hue.

He noted that many communal houses and monuments had been changed beyond recognition after renovations.

"Traditional communal houses carry cultural and architectural styles that were set by their builders in times gone by, often several decades ago, thus the restoration work should consider the research that has been done.

"The houses also have community values, so consulting community elders is also important in the process of restoration," Thong added.

There are many mountainous villages in Thua Thien-Hue and its neighboring provinces where local communities' lives have not yet been affected by modern life too strongly. The experts said research studies on the roles of the communal house in these ethnic communities' would help inform and support the switch to a modern context.

Picture perfect: A drawing by Hue University of Science students depicting old community houses in Hue.

Ethnic communal houses represented six functions in the old days. The village house could have an important external role in communications with other communities, providing a kind of diplomatic facility for the village.

It was also a common place for village ritual ceremonies and for dealing with legal disputes among locals.

The house served as a muster point for the village wardens in the event of a natural disaster, because of a threat from wild animals or in case of conflict between neighbouring communities.

For cultural and educational activities, it was obviously the best place for all to gather for festivities and celebrations.

The seminar was told that once most of these functions were included in the restoration plans, a traditional building would be well preserved both architecturally and culturally.

Nguyen Thang Long, another researcher, gave a case study of restoration work done on the Nam Pho Trung communal house in Nam Pho Village, Hue, where the work done at the behest of the locals resulted in the successful preservation of the tangible and intangible values of the house.

Long also emphasised how the participation of the locals played a key role in the renovation work, including not only their material contributions, but also their intellectual and human resources.

The seminar held by Japan's University of Kyoto, Hue University of Sciences, and the Viet Nam Institute of Culture and Arts Study, gathered researches to discuss the conservation issues of Hue's distinctive nha ruong architecture, which features wooden houses with many beams and pillars.

Many nha ruong had lost their intrinsic value and structural integrity from ad hoc renovations and alterations, thus urgent work to preserve them was needed, the seminar heard. — VNS

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