|Typical style: The Đà Lạt Railway Station was designed by French architects. — Photo toursdulichdalat.com|
by Ngọc Diệp
Đà Lạt — What lies ahead for the city of Đà Lạt as it tries to accommodate a new tourism model while preserving its unique cultural and architectural heritage?
A famed resort town with a temperate climate, the Central Highlands city is in the midst of a building boom in an area well-known for its wooded landscapes, beautiful lakes, French colonial villas and high-quality horticulture, floriculture and agriculture.
Recently, around 100 experts, academics and administrators from around the country attended a workshop organised by Lâm Đồng Province’s People’s Committee to discuss ways to preserve the city’s urban and cultural heritage, particularly its French villas and buildings.
Planning expert Lê Quang Ninh told attendees at the workshop that the city’s master plan to 2030 calls for Đà Lạt to preserve its agricultural and architectural heritage, and at the same time become a “smart city”.
Ngô Viết Nam Sơn, who specialises in urban transport infrastructure, urged city planners at the workshop to create more green spaces and bodies of water between and around high-rise projects.
|Heritage: Con Gà Church is one of the oldest buildings in Đà Lạt. — VNA/VNS Photo Thông Hải|
“It’s important to help Đà Lạt preserve and expand the green spaces in the city,” he said.
Residents of the city are worried as well about the preservation of its natural landscape. "If the city loses its hills of pine trees or its architectural heritage, our tourism brand will be lost, too," said Nguyễn Hương Giang, who lives in the city.
She said the city’s regulations on planting and protecting trees was strictly enforced. "I had to report the cutting down of an old tree in front of my house, pay a fee, and replace the tree," Giang said.
Speaking at the recent workshop, Doãn Minh Khôi, head of the Urban and Architectural Institute, said the city, besides preserving its natural beauty, should exploit its potential for health and wellness services such as massage and acupuncture, and for medical treatments and high-quality healthcare products.
To create such programmes, experts at the workshop urged medical facilities to work closely with travel agencies and enterprises.
Apart from new tourism services, Đà Lạt’s flower, vegetable and fruit industries have long had a solid reputation in international markets.
Many farmers who grow the area’s famed flowers and vegetables are now involved in agro-tourism activities that have helped them earn more income and promote their brands.
Founded in 1893 by Swiss-French bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin as a hilltop retreat, Đà Lạt, with an average year-round temperature of 17-20 degrees Celsius, has a unique ecosystem. Located 1,500 metres above sea level, it has many pine trees, twisting roads and flower species.
The city’s design was based on the ideas of British urban planner Ebenezer Howard, the founder in 1898 of the "garden city movement" in which people lived harmoniously with nature.
Today, Đà Lạt is well-known for its biennial Flower Festival and its hundreds of French villas.
However, Lê Quang Trung, director of Lâm Đồng Province’s Construction Department, said that some of the villas handed over to investors had not been strictly managed and were in poor condition.
Improper renovation and conservation had reduced their value over time, and many new buildings near the old villas had affected the beauty of the streets, he said.
Khôi of the Urban and Architectural Institute said that population growth in residential areas as well as service, trade, and tourism activities had transformed the city.
Such activities, particularly private and public construction projects with designs unsuited to the city, could cause the area to lose its special appeal, he said.
Architect Trần Ngọc Chính, chairman of the Việt Nam Urban Development Planning Association, agreed that Đà Lạt must preserve its special assets and invaluable resources.
“If it loses one of these values, its image as a romantic, poetic city will no longer exist,” he said.
Sơn, the transport infrastructure expert, said the city should not build high-rises in its centre and should expand green space, set up roof gardens, and reduce the density of construction projects.
|Tranquil: Xuân Hương Lake Tourism Site. — VNA/VNS Photo Mạnh Linh|
|Natural area: A view of Đà Lạt, known as the City of Flowers. — VNA/VNS Photo Mạnh Linh|
|Centre of learning: The Pedagogical College of Đà Lạt is listed among 1,000 significant architectural works of the 20th century by the International Association of Architects. — VNA/VNS Photo Thành Đạt|
|Years gone by: Đà Lạt in the past. — Courtesy of Bill Robie|
|Bustling city: A map of Đà Lạt’s proposed urban planning to 2030. — Courtesy of www.lamdong.gov.vn|
Speaking at the workshop, architect Doãn Minh Khôi said that it was important to protect the area’s forest resources, hills, lakes and streams as well as its architectural heritage.
“We need to live in harmony with nature,” he said.
Of the many villas, schools, churches and public facilities built by the French, Con Gà Church is one of the oldest structures, while the Pedagogical College of Đà Lạt (formerly the Grand Lycéee Yersin), founded in 1927, is listed by the International Union of Architects among the 1,000 most significant buildings of the 20th century.
Built in 1943, the Đà Lạt Train Station, which once served wood-burning steam trains, still has its original ticket windows.
The Đà Lạt Market, built in 1958, was designed by architect Ngô Viết Thụ (1926-2000) of Huế, who in 1962 was the first Asian architect to become an Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.
Thụ, who won the Grand Prix de Rome in 1955, the highest recognition for an architect in France, studied at the École Supérieure d’Architecture in Đà Lạt before transferring to the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
Besides the influence of the French, the culture of the various ethnic group in the region can be seen in many buildings in Đà Lạt.
The Cam Ly Cathedral, for example, combines Western architectural style and elements of indigenous culture, while many villas and public architecture show the cultural imprint of both the Central Highlands and the West.
Despite the rapid changes of the last few decades, Đà Lạt retains its charm and offers an urban space worthy of its “garden city” status.
Dương Quang Khương, who lives in HCM City, visits Đà Lạt every year, attracted by its green spaces and interesting architecture. "I hope the city will be even more beautiful under the new master plan, and keep its special attractions that have existed for over 100 years," he said.
If everything goes according to the city’s plans, the pine forests and villas will still be there, and the city’s cool climate and beauty will continue to draw tourists as well as writers, poets, musicians, and painters looking for inspiration.
Though its urban areas will be “smart” and digitally connected, its charms will remain undiluted by casinos, unattractive buildings and excessive noise.
On nearly every corner, visitors today can still see carnations, wildflowers, roses and orchids blooming throughout the four seasons in the "City of Flowers".
Let’s hope that such beauty is retained and the city can overcome its challenges and develop in a sustainable manner. VNS