It’s amazing how this abandoned factory at number 9 Tran Thanh Tong, Hanoi, has been transformed from almost-complete ruin into one of the hottest spots in town. And astonishingly enough, the entire change happened in just a few months! The area, which is now nicknamed “Zone 9”, is located on the one-way street Tran Thanh Tong, at the junction with 3 other streets: Yersin, Le Quy Don and Nguyen Huy Tu.
This is a lush area covered by shady green trees, and one curious fact is that “Zone 9” is situated right next to the funeral house of the Ministry of Defense and visitors can sometimes hear the announcements from the ceremonies for the dead echoing next door.
There are two gates leading into Zone 9. The main gate facing the Pasteur Garden on Tran Thanh Tong and hidden amid various Hanoi-style cafes and food shops is marked by a big red banner announcing “Điểm trông giữ xe ngày & đêm” (day & night parking space). Another smaller gate on Nguyen Huy Tu bears the sign of a car/motorbike washing service and also “day & night parking space”.
Before being “discovered”, only a small part of the area was used for washing and parking while most of the complex was quite abandoned. Estimates about how long this huge area has been left unoccupied and unused ranged from a few years to roughly ten years. So let’s not try to unmask the mystic cover of the ruined factory. The story only began when a few artists found the place late last year, and now it is booming as everyone can see.
Artists and people in the creative industries, both locals and expats, seem to have been the first to decide to move in, firstly because the initial rent was very affordable. With a limited budget they could still talk about renting hundreds of sqm. And they did. “They” include Tadioto, Nha San Collective, 9A4 M Studio, Dom Dom (building A), Barbetta (building B), Work Room Four (building E), to name but a few. Interestingly, five families have also rented the top floor of building A to live in.
It is often assumed that only artists would move into an abandoned area next to a funeral house (if you ask, yes, Vietnamese people are superstitious when it comes to spirits and worshipping), but in fact, everyone else is also moving in. The rent now may have doubled, but there is currently not a single spot in the whole complex without a signed lease contract. Zone 9 has become so hip that all the cool people in town want to own a bit of it. There come more and more bar cafes, fashion shops, restaurants, studios, etc. And people are already thinking about a Hanoi version of Beijing’s 798 Art Zone or London’s Shoreditch, from both artistic and commercial angles.
However, there is a dark side to consider. The glory of Zone 9 may be gone in 3 years’ time. The authorities have planned to build an apartment building right on this spot. When asked about what would happen then, Nguyen Qui Duc, Tadioto’s owner and one of the first to move in Zone 9, could only hope vaguely that maybe the construction company would not have enough budget to start the project and that Zone 9 could still stay a bit longer. Duc seemed to accept that they couldn’t do much against the government’s will, the same attitude exhibited by other renters.
So what will possibly happen in the next 3 years? Pessimists say Zone 9 may have been gone by then (in fact, it may disappear even sooner if the construction company gathers enough demand and budget to start their project early), but optimists expect that Zone 9 will become an entity with a voice and that the city planners will respect and leave it alone. But whatever will happen, the area has already created its name and certainly we will keep talking about it in a long time more. And for now let’s just enjoy while we still can.
Words by PHM, photos by Julie Vola.