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Preserving urban heritage is a must

Update: May, 19/2018 - 09:00
Tràng Tiền Street in the central downtown district Hoàn Kiếm of Hà Nội still retains in good order many of the French architecture, built during the colonial period. — VNA/VNS Photo Phương Hoa
Viet Nam News

Professor and Architect Hoàng Đạo Thúy talks to Nhân Dân (People) newspaper about the need to create harmony between the nation’s heritage conservation and development.

In almost every society, there comes a point when people argue that development is coming at the cost of conserving heritage. In your point of view is there a contradiction between conservation and development in Việt Nam?

In nature or in any society, the law of elimination will always exist. Elimination in nature happens through evolutionary processes. So it also does in the course of development of all societies in this world. That’s why as time goes by, all structures erected or built by human kind will be destroyed, either by the nature or by the human factors. In short, sooner or later, all projects built by us will gradually disappear.

Another argument I want to mention is that products created by previous generations may not be appreciated by the following generations for various reasons. So they should be destroyed or eliminated. In other words, elimination is but a small stream in the grander course of the creation and development of humankind. That’s why requirements to preserve the previous generations’ products for the next generations runs against the natural law of elimination, destruction and losses.  

Basically speaking, conservation and development will always have an antagonistic relationship.

That’s why before we make a decision about whether something is worth preserving, we should answer the questions “What for?”, “Can we do it?” and others.

Nowadays, many people in the world understand the need to preserve some important constructions for future generations. These projects are the historical landmarks of the previous generations.

In other words, all relics, heritage sites and antique items should be protected and preserved. Of course, each of them needs a specific preservation method.

To preserve historical relics, what are the key principles we have to follow?

The most essential principle is to assess the value of relics in all plans for future development.

I should say that in our current course of urban development, relics have not been given due treatment. Any relic needs good surroundings, which will make them prominent in the surrounding modern environment. In order to have good conservation, we have to settle the contradictions between conservation and development.

For example, the old town of Sài Gòn, Gia Định or the ancient French quarters in Hồ Chí Minh City all have faced many challenges from the pressure of urban development. Many urban development officials think that the old town of Sài Gòn, Gia Dịnh or the ancient French quarters are the stumbling blocks for the city’s modern development!

However, in reality, if small and ancient houses and buildings are destroyed, Hồ Chí Minh City will lose its distinctive characteristics which have developed over thousands of years.

How do you respond to a comment from a HCM City department saying that the Thượng Thư Palace [a 158-year-old French Government building] doesn’t need conservation because it is not a historical relic?

If we only conserve buildings that have been classified as historical relics, HCM City and Hà Nội authorities could go ahead with the pulling down of many urban relics which the two cities have tried to maintain for centuries. In other words, our cities will not have their history of development, nor any land marks which will remind the people of their history.

I should say, relics in Việt Nam are not as major as those in other countries. But they hold precious value in the hearts and minds of many Vietnamese citizens.

It is indisputable, any project that has been classified as a historical relic, it will be preserved and conserved for future generations.

Besides, for projects that have been on the list of national historical relics, there will be the budget for preserving and maintaining them. We still need to protect other urban relics which have not been classified as the national historical relics. In my opinion, we should create a “Fund for Urban Relic Protection”.

For example, Hà Nội has a thousand old French villas and HCM City has hundreds of ancient buildings while Đà Lạt has some 2,000 old villas, so we need a certain fund to conserve these relics for our future generations. In the field of conservation, for some relics which are called “dead relics”, we must preserve them as-is regardless of functionality. However, some relics, which we call “living relics”, we need to have a certain rules for them to operate, including allowing the owners of these relics to renovate and upgrade them.

In short, we need to work out the most appropriate ways to conserve these villas but still meet the development requirements.

Some people have suggested that we should move the Thượng Thư Palace to a new place for the construction of a new HCM City People’s Committee building. How do you respond to such a proposal?

I don’t agree! The Thượng Thư Palace has been in its current location for a century and it will only be alive in such surrounding environment. If the Palace is relocated to another place, it will become meaningless to the people, which reduces its values to zero. — VNS



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