More than 15 years of research culminated in this comprehensive book on the capital's iron works, which includes background on window bars, iron fences and balcony designs. Ha Nguyen reports.
Tran Hau Yen The spent more than 15 years to complete his newly released book on Ha Noi entitled "Song xua Pho cu (Old Window Iron Works on Old Streets)".
Lovers of the capital city will enjoy reading the book, which contains information on decorative iron gates, windows and fences and different balcony designs. The work is useful to architects, researchers as well as students.
For his contribution, The, 44, a researcher and lecturer at the Viet Nam Academy of Fine Arts, was awarded this year's Bui Xuan Phai Prize – For the Love of Ha Noi.
Inner Sanctum: What inspired you to write the book?
I was attracted by Ha Noi's iron fences and windows since I was a young boy. For me they are the capital's beautiful cultural heritage. Inspirations for my research came from our condos at the University of National Economics.
Apartment buildings are the places where the history of Ha Noi is kept as part of the city's heritage.
I could never forget the feelings and passions that I've had whenever I enjoyed Ha Noi iron gates, railings and bars, particularly when I stood on a tram running from Mo Market to the streets of Bach Mai, Hue and Hang Bai to Hoan Kiem Lake, or from my home to Children's Palace to learn painting.
My 70's generation was lucky to be the last to contemplate on tiny and ancient Ha Noi, which was peaceful and cleaner then. I fell in love with ornamental iron works from that time on.
My book has inspired researchers into naming a seminar based on my book: Ha Noi Behind Iron "eyelids". They recognised that Ha Noi's beauty stems from these eyelids.
I myself wished to find other faces of the capital that had been hidden in such lovely iron eyelids.
Inner Sanctum: What message do you want to send to readers through your book?
I'm not a real Hanoian, but I was excited to discover and write down what was hidden behind such beautiful iron gates, window and fences, as well as the architectural design of French buildings and Old Quarter streets. All were created for Ha Noi with classic charm, talent and politeness.
To maintain an objective outlook, I spent time doing research on decorative iron works in Sai Gon (HCM City), Hue, Nam Dinh and the ancient rural village of Cu Da, about 20km west of Ha Noi, as well as Paris.
My book presents readers with pieces of Ha Noi in the past and unconnected stories of local houses which remained after wars and troubled times.
Through images in the book, you could recognise the beauty of the iron doors, windows and balconies of houses in Ha Noi, and hidden behind them are the living condition and human dignity, particularly the soul of the capital.
Inner Sanctum: What were your advantages and disadvantages during the past 15 years that you did research to write the book?
I was lucky to be the last generation to contemplate the city's beauty before it was sunk in the global waves of commerce with huge advertising sign boards that remain hanging uquibitiously on the streets.
I have invested time and effort in travelling far and wide to all city corners to take photographs, records and design maps and conduct interviews with owners of houses with ancient iron works.
I have had to run a race with the fierce pace of urban change in hopes that my book will become an effective tool for architects, designers and iron workers.
I wish to thank organisations such as the UNESCO office in Viet Nam and the Japan Credit Fund for their funding, and mass media such as the The Thao&Van Hoa newspaper and the Viet Nam Gallery for displaying parts of my initial researches.
I also want to thank individuals such as critic Phan Cam Thuong and many others for their effective help for and encouragement of my research.
Inner Sanctum: What houses and constructions most impressed you?
They include the houses of Hoang Van Son (14 Duong Thanh Road), Nguyen Thi Minh Yen ( 14 Phan Huy Ich Street), Ly Thi Lien (38 Cao Ba Quat Street) and Kieu Tuan (102 Hang Dao Street).
I was most impressed with the wrought-iron doors of Pho Minh Pagoda in the northern province of Nam Dinh. The doors had been decorated with beautiful images of dragons that are now on display at the Viet Nam Museum of Fine Arts.
From 1920 to 1940, the iron bars of Art Deco were the most developed of Ha Noi's architectural trends but still remained respectful of the national character which they have preserved. Their design system carried the significance of culture and history, creating a capital that became one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
I've had a chance to contemplate the iron handrails and the roof dome of the Paris subway, which retains a steady position in French art history in particular and the world's fine arts in general.
Inner Sanctum: What are your plans after Song xua Pho cu?
Apart from doing research on decorative iron works, I have focused my research on the front houses of a street.
I plan to continue writing stories of each front house of a street, their inside architecture and details connecting to man's fate in each house. — VNS