Hanoi's Hoan Kiem lake buried in crass commercialism

By Trinh Nguyen, Thanh Nien News

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The Shark Jaws restaurant is one of the modern constructions that architects say has marred the space around Hanoi's Hoan Kiem Lake. Photo: Ngoc Thang The Shark Jaws restaurant is one of the modern constructions that architects say has marred the space around Hanoi's Hoan Kiem Lake. Photo: Ngoc Thang

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Crass commercial developments have crowded the area around Sword Lake, which has long been considered the cultural core of the city, experts said at a conference on Wednesday.
Exhaust from taxi and bus stations fill the air around the lake, handbag and knick-knack shops overshadow temples--particularly on Hang Khay Street, where merchandise obscures the entrance to Vu Thach pagoda.
Nguyen Xuan Anh, an urban researcher, said the lake's defining cultural features are fading around the Sword Lake.
Construction since the late 1980s has crowded around French colonial works, Anh said at the conference held by Vietnam Urban Planning and Development Association, Vietnam Architects Association and Hoan Kiem District government.
“The face of the lake has changed a lot due to commercial demands," he said.
The Shark Jaws restaurant at the corner of Dinh Tien Hoang and Hang Dao connects the lake to the Old Quarter.
“But its aesthetic qualities are rather poor,” Anh said.

The Sword Lake in Hanoi in 1954 according to a file photo
Many buildings around the lake were so poorly designed they required a raft of media criticism reflecting public and expert opinions before changes were made.
Architect Dao Ngoc Nghiem, a leading Hanoi architect and vice chairman of Hanoi Urban Planning and Development Association, said the Vang hotel only started construction after more than 90 stories were published objecting its design.
Hanoi's municipal government still hasn't come up with a new proposal for its new headquarters after the central government, prompted by public opinion, demanded that work be stopped and changes made, Nghiem said.
Architect Pham Thanh Tung said the water fountain in Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc square looks unimpressive and rarely flows. The square, known as Place Négrier during French colonial rule, lies to the northeast of the lake. 
“Sometimes there’s water, sometimes the bottom is dry. We could have put in a colorful dancing water fountain there to make things more interesting,” Tung said. 
Anh said the lake has been overloaded.
The face of the lake has changed a lot due to use demands" -- urban researcher Nguyen Xuan Anh said about Hanoi's Sword Lake 
With limited space, the lake has continued to cater to the citizens of a capitol that expanded 22-fold in 30 years, he said.
“The space around the lake has been fragmented and can no longer accommodate a crowded public event.”
He said he’s concerned that if the city’s future subway station is built on its shores, it will spell death for the lake.
Anh said the space should stop at being treated like a downtown historical attraction and instead be considered the cultural center of the capitol.
“Let’s bring back its peace,” he said. 
Award-winning architect Hoang Thuc Hao said competition for lakefront development has drawn plenty of ideas from architects, but none of their suggestions have been carried out.
Without naming names, Hao said the lake has yet to have a good face because of “conflicts between powerful interest groups.”

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