The collapse of an old house at 43 Cửa Bắc Street, central Hà Nội, that claimed two lives and injured three others early this month, has added to the dilemma of old houses and the management of buildings in cities like Hà Nội and HCM City. The accident also raises concerns over the safety of local people living in degraded areas. A city authority official, citizens and experts share their opinions on the issue with Việt Nam News.
Đặng Ngọc Tiến, Deputy Director of the Management Board of Hà Nội’s Old Quarter
The recent collapse of an old house at Cửa Bắc Street, which killed two people and injured three others, has raised anxiety amongst residents living in the Old Quarter area as it is home to a large number of old houses and buildings.
The Management Board of Hà Nội’s Old Quarter, in collaboration with the people’s committees of 10 wards in the Old Quarter, have revised all downgraded construction works in the area and found 180 deteriorated buildings, which might pose a danger for those living in them.
The maintenance and repair work of these deteriorated houses currently depends on their owners and the responsibilities of State management agencies.
For the privately-owned houses and buildings, owners themselves or authority officials who are assigned to manage them, must be active in maintaining or repairing their buildings/houses to ensure the safety of residents.
They have the responsibility of inspecting the construction works and assessing the potential risks when finding signs of deterioration. Based on the results, they must then set up plans to renovate or repair them. For the State-owned houses and buildings, organisations or units which are assigned to manage them must plan for maintenance and repair annually.
The People’s Committee of Hoàn Kiếm District has guided its units to review and give preliminary assessment of the downgraded construction works and provide solutions to ensure safety for people, especially during rainy seasons.
The population density of the Old Quarter is about 84,000 persons per square kilometre, ranking as one of the most crowded areas in the world. The high population density of the Old Quarter has led to the narrowing of living spaces for local people.
Due to increasing demand for accommodation, some households have illegally expanded their living area. Houses have been extended with steel frames or temporarily covered by corrugated sheets. However, these materials have caused negative impacts on the structure of the houses and affected the beauty and architecture of the Old Quarter.
Thus, it is necessary to inspect the quality of these construction works and set up an appropriate plan to renovate them.
Currently, the management board is working with local people’s committees of 10 wards in the area to increase dissemination for local residents about the regulations of architectural planning in the Old Quarter and give them training on fire prevention and fighting annually. Most of the buildings and houses are quite old, but have not yet been examined scientifically to have measures put in place to manage them effectively. Moreover, authorised agencies have faced difficulties in managing them as many construction works are owned by many people.
The Government’s Decree 46/2015 /ND-CP, which was issued on May 12, stipulates specifically the danger levels of deteriorated buildings and houses. Based on the results of inspections, we can make recommendations to owners, managers or users on plans for renovation and repair of the construction works or require them to relocate to ensure their safety.
Phd Professor Lê Văn Kiều
Phd Professor Lê Văn Kiều, senior lecturer at National University of Civil Engineering
The collapse of an old house at 43 Cửa Bắc Street in Hà Nội was inevitable.
Although no exact construction data was announced, I guess the house might have been built around 40 years ago when materials for the construction industry, specifically concrete, were subsidised and strictly managed by the then State. To build a house at that time, the house owner had to collect materials including bricks and concrete for nearly a year, preserve them in primary conditions against weather and environmental effects. This made it easy for the material to deteriorate in quality.
Moreover, aside from the low quality of materials, many people, 40 years ago just built their houses by themselves or with help from workers or engineers without adequate construction knowledge.
I am sure that the owner of 43 Cửa Bắc possessed no accurate design plans or documents about the house’s construction.
The lifespan of a house depends largely on the materials that were used to build it, as well as on the quality of design and construction.
Houses that meet the first standard of quality will have a lifespan of about 75 years. Houses that are placed at second or third quality levels could stand firmly for about 40 or 50 years while those at the fourth level could have a lifespan of just 25 years.
The collapsed house was definitely among the fourth level and if its owner wanted it to be continuously in use, he or she should have upgraded it more than ten years ago.
The upgrading of old houses in cities, in many cases, is not an easy process as many of them go through generations of owners. That means the houses have been sold to different people most of whom could not preserve original ownership documents or construction plans.
Ironically, I know that Hà Nội and HCM City currently have more than 100 houses or buildings with lifespans lasting more than 100 years.
To manage or deal with such old houses or buildings, construction authorities should focus first on evaluating their remaining endurance capacity. They should also cautiously consider a final plan on whether to demolish or preserve them based on the evaluation.
The City Department of Construction needs to set up a special group responsible for observing and supervising the old houses and buildings, particularly those which are in the process of applying for a construction licences.
Authorities should grant construction licences to old estate properties only after they have conducted careful evaluations on their capacity and duration.
At present, the Government is encouraging education and training on urban construction and management. Many colleges and universities consider it one of the key targets of training. But the Government should also promulgate policies that encourage thousands of students who have been trained in the field, to engage in working with it after graduation.
Doãn Minh Khôi
Head of the Institute of Urban and Architecture, Doãn Minh Khôi
The case of the house collapse on Cửa Bắc Street is not the first of its kind. There are many houses that are built next to old ones. These old houses were built long ago and their foundations are simply not good enough. As a result, the construction of new houses or the upgrading of houses next to these old houses will affect them. This is the reason why some old houses have started to subside, crack or even worse, collapse as with the case on Cửa Bắc Street. Old urban centres often face this problem when building new houses, for not abiding by technical factors and regulations.
We cannot live indefinitely in deteriorated houses, and people have their own ways of improving their living conditions. However, it requires standards and regulations when upgrading or building new houses. It means that people have to build houses following exact designs and regulations while State management agencies need to tighten supervision over construction of these houses. Supervision is every important. We cannot build a house without supervision. So we need specific regulations in repairing and upgrading houses in the future.
When building a house we need to register for a licence from the construction ministry or from authorities at a lower level such as cities or districts, depending on each kind of house. However, in reality, not all people abide by these regulations. In some cases, people try to not follow the construction licence that they are granted. House design is done correctly but the construction process does not follow what is licensed by authorities. Meanwhile, management agencies fail to supervise house construction effectively. These are key reasons. In my opinion, wrongdoings often happen at the construction process, not the construction licensing process.
Many residents are worried that the Cửa Bắc Street collapse will not be the final one. I share this concern. If house construction is not well supervised and management staff do not have sufficient professional skills and knowledge, such a case can and will happen again.
Nguyễn Thành Lạng
Nguyễn Thành Lạng, a resident in an old building, Hà Nội’s Hoàng Mai District
The case of the house collapse that claimed two lives and injured four others at 43 Cửa Bắc in central Hà Nội is just one of many old houses and buildings which have become seriously degraded in Hà Nội over the years.
I am also living in an old building in Tân Mai Ward’s Nguyễn Chính Street which is considerd to be the most deteriorated five-storey building in Hà Nội’s Hoàng Mai District. The building was constructed more than 30 years ago.
Residents here are living in fear because the apartment could collapse at any time.
For the cause of the accident at 43 Cửa Bắc, I think we cannot only blame the city’s housing and land management board because sometimes residents still carry out work despite warnings from local authorities. We need join hands from all sides, especially from the city’s authorities.
In our case, we have proposed our ideas and opinions several times to the local and city’s authorities to find solutions to tackle the serious degradation here.
What are the local and city’s authorities doing to deal with the current situation?
The local authorities have carried out some surveys on the level of tilt and subsidence of the residential complex.
And in 2010, the city’s house and land management board had put a big iron bar around the building’s stairs from the first to fifth floor to avoid collapse but the tilt of the building continues.
Awareness on implementing measures to hold up against storms has been strengthened and the local authority has also prepared plans to move residents to safe places if needed.
However, specific renovation plans have not been implemented drastically, and not fast enough besides announcing the danger of the building and planning for temporary relocation in urgent cases.
The plan is still on paper. We have already waited for many years. Most people here, including myself, are low income residents so we can not afford to build new houses elsewhere. We hope that the city’s authorities will soon have a specific plan to rebuild or relocate all residents here.
In my opinion, to overcome such a situation the city should have priority policies to attract businesses looking to rebuild immediately. Policies should benefit businesses and create conditions to help them get more money from building projects. Investors have to take the responsibility of managing and ensuring the quality of their projects.
Policies should ensure the benefit to enterprises, authorities and particularly residents. I heard about the city’s project on upgrading and rebuilding old and damaged buildings over the coming years and I hope that it will be realised sooner rather than later. — VNS