Saigon’s spontaneous use of space deserves a PhD

Thanh Nien News

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Tran Hoanh (R) and Archie Pizzini install a piece at their exhibition of Ho Chi Minh's daily architecture at a local exhibition which will last until May 2, 2015 Tran Hoanh (R) and Archie Pizzini install a piece at their exhibition of Ho Chi Minh's daily architecture at a local exhibition which will last until May 2, 2015


Two American architects living in Ho Chi Minh City have chosen its creative architecture for their doctoral thesis and are exhibiting a part of it at a local showroom.
Tran Hoanh, of Vietnamese origin, and his colleague Archie Pizzini, have studied the city’s daily architecture from the early 1800s to the present for a doctoral thesis at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, often known as RMIT in Vietnam.
They presented the thesis in front of a council of the institute at Galerie Quynh in the city Friday, where they also started the exhibition “In Situ,” which will go on until May 2.
The exhibition features photos, text-based works, and installations that show the duo’s creative responses to the city.
According to a press release from the exhibition, in Tran and Pizzini’s perspectives the city is a transient organism that is impermanent and sensitive to the flux of Vietnam’s economic growth.
Pizzini, who studied fine arts and architecture in the US before coming to work in Ho Chi Minh City in 2005, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper in an interview that the flexibility of house structures surprises him.
He said has seen people turning balconies into a toilet, a bedroom or a sitting room, and even made use of the stairs in apartment buildings, which is creativity that goes beyond all designers’ imagination.
He did not describe sidewalk shops in the city as chaotic, but a lively arrangement, one that goes against all formula and thus very unpredictable.
It makes the city a huge accumulation of individual work and intervention that seems unlikely to end any time soon, he said.
Tran, who came to work in the city in 1996 after getting master degrees in historic preservation and architecture, is interested in protecting the historic architecture that makes up the city’s present facade.
He said the city is changing too fast, which is not necessarily a good thing.
Tran said New York, where he chose to study historic preservation since it balanced old and new architecture, has received criticism lately for increasing demolition.
Scholars in Singapore too now regret they had destroyed too much too fast for the sake of economic development.
“We shouldn't repeat their mistake,” Tran said.
“A city is enriched by accumulation over generations ... Accumulation incorporates destruction, but keeps enough fabric to retain cultural identity, while obliteration erases everything, including the cultural fabric.”
He praised the public protection for the Saigon Tax Trade Center and the Saigon Central Post Office, both of which are tourism hot spots thanks to their history and beauty.
The city government first planned to demolish the center to make space for a metro line but persistent criticism has forced it to consider keeping parts of the icon now.
The post office’s managers recently had to repaint the building in light yellow after both locals and tourists called the bright yellow it was painted in last year too much of an eyesore.
Tran said some buildings in the city, like the colonial-era Saigon Tax Trade Center and post office, are unique and deserve protection.
The French had intended to bring pure French designs over before deciding to create new forms that better suited the climate and culture of Vietnam, he said.
So one cannot find a similar building in France, he added.

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