Responding to critics, Ho Chi Minh City launches design competition with preservation bent

By Dinh Phu, Thanh Nien News

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The compound at 59-61 Ly Tu Trong Street in Ho Chi Minh City's District 1

The Ho Chi Minh City authorities have launched a design competition which, among other things, has invited local architects to submit new designs for a 126-year-old compound which served as the center for French colonial power in southern Vietnam. 
On Monday, the HCMC Department of Zoning-Architecture said the competition has called for design options for a new municipal administration center, including the compound that houses the HCMC Department of Information and Communications and the Department of Industry and Trade.
The compound is located on 59-61 Ly Tu Trong Street in District 1. According to Tim Doling, a chronicler and tour guide who writes a blog called Historic Vietnam, the first French government building -- the Direction de l’Intérieur (Department of the Interior) -- was built on the site in the early 1860s.
By 1888, the functions of the department had been subsumed by the Secrétariat Général du Gouvernement de la Cochinchine, and a larger building – the one that currently occupies the site – was built at 59-61 Rue de la Grandière. By the early 20th century, the site was alternatively called the Bureaux du Gouvernment or Bureaux des Services Civiles, according to Doling.
Following the Second World War, the French briefly set up a Ministère de l’Intérieur (Interior Ministry) in the compound to administer to the short-lived State of Vietnam.
However, after 1955 a new Interior Ministry was built at 59-61 Gia Long (as it then became known) and was transformed into the South Vietnamese Ministry of the Economy.
In 1958 the compound made a fleeting appearance in Joseph L Mankiewicz’s film version of Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American.
Today the 126-year-old compound serves as the HCMC Department of Information and Communications.
According to the city's architectural department, the competition encourages architects to preserve the compound's façade, but nothing else.

The 59-61 Ly Tu Trong compound on Google Map
Doling included the compound in a list of HCMC’s five most endangered heritage buildings.
“Many of us pass it every day and scarcely give it a second look. Yet the building was once a focus of French colonial power second only to the Governor’s palace,” he wrote.
The HCMC government recently announced plans to build a new municipal administration center on a 18,000-square-meter land plot that is cut by Le Thanh Ton, Pasteur, Ly Tu Trong and Dong Khoi streets in District 1.
The center will house eight state offices for 1,700 civil servants.
Following broad public outcry about the possible destruction of the headquarters of the District 1 People’s Committee at 45-47 Le Duan Street, the municipal government pledged to preserve the old building and construct a new government center behind it.

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