The building was unique, and it opened to befitting fanfare on a very special occasion the 1,000th anniversary of Thang Long Hanoi.
Easily the largest museum in Vietnam, the four-storey reverse pyramid shaped building was received with appropriate "oohs" and "aahs." Thousand of people gathered to celebrate the inauguration of the building, which is located next to the National Conference Center in the capital's Tu Liem District.
Built at a cost of US$112 million and covering an area of nearly 54,000 square meters, the museum was to display 60,000 artifacts dating back to the Ly, Tran, Le, Nguyen dynasties, and from modern times.
The museum, a window to the capital's long history, was a modern first in the country both architecturally and in terms of technology and equipment used in its construction.
However, months after its inauguration, the museum is struggling to attract visitors. The building has been neglected and is falling into rapid degradation: the ground floor has sunk in by a few inches and electric wiring is exposed everywhere. The museum has few exhibits, leaving most of the floors empty. The artifacts on display have been damaged by exposure to sunlight. The administration has had to close some rooms, including the office of the Maintenance Department to prevent accidents.
On International Museum Day May 18, Vo Quang Trong, director of the Museum of Vietnam Ethnology, said the Hanoi Museum was "not different from other museums in Vietnam, which were built to mark special days, instead of building a home to preserve and restore the country's heritage and history."
In April this year, the Ministry of Construction announced the museum needs to be inspected to check for damages. The Minister of Planning and Investment, Vo Hong Phuc, went even further and said the building was a waste.
At the inauguration ceremony, National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Phu Trong, now Party General Secretary as well, had urged the museum's managers to classify antiques and artifacts, and tap the museum's potential in research activities. He had said the building should not be considered a warehouse for artifacts, but a means to introduce local and international visitors to Vietnam's history in general, and that of Thang Long Hanoi in particular."
However, construction was still going on when the museum opened in October last year. Nguyen Van Hung, the museum's director, said May 24 that work on the museum was far from complete it still needs more investment to complete its display design.
"It takes 20-30 years to fill a museum, collect artifacts and categorize the display. This is how Ho Chi Minh Museum, the Museum of Vietnam Ethnology and museums all over the world have been established," said Nguyen Van Huy, former director of the Museum of Vietnam Ethnology.
"If we ignore these processes, the museum we build will be uninteresting and poorly stocked," Huy said.