KVT and Social Housing @ L’Espace

KVT and Social Housing @ L’Espace

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One of the best perspectives to start viewing the fascinating exhibition up and running at L’Espace is through the installation window that puts the viewer inside an old apartment building being demolished to make way for the glitz and glam of modernity


The apartment building in the throes of ‘artistically licensed’ destruction is one of thousands constructed as Social Housing -on what is now precious inner city land- from the 1950ies through to the1980ies

Cold War, Soviet style social housing- high rise concrete apartments- is a common sight in just about all past and continuing communist planned cities from Albania through to Uzbekistan. Universal communist planning resulted in virtually identical city blocks being erected across many nations, even if there were differences in the specifics between each country.

At the L’Espace exhibition a montage of old photographs recalls what these Hanoi-an apartment blocks once resembled.





Many of the apartment blocks now squat defiantly on prime land being hungrily eyed by property developers and probably by those high up who may get a substantial hand out from land sequestration.


And many of the inhabitants of those sequestered properties resist being moved on to more modern versions of government social housing in outer suburbs


Or if they can afford it, would rather inhabit a place in the clouds in privately developed high rise apartment complexes such as at Royal City- the current apogee.


But of course living in dense, urban high rise has always had its problems and as I wrote in a 2013 opinion piece about social housing in Hanoi after a viewing a brilliant exhibition in Saigon.

‘As is common when people are crowded into similar, dense urban high rise villages, the natural instinct is to carve out as much space as you can with add ons, and, as you get richer, to personalize, your spaces and by all means possible, keep control of what you consider to be rightfully yours. The artist grew up in one of these concrete blocks and , like all kids, enjoyed the communal experience, but as a kid was mainly divorced from a lot of the bickering and dissension that ebbs and flows and simmers and boils over and can make high rise village life a series of trials and tribulations. Thus these apartment dwellers turned their apartments into places that were barricaded against inquisitive, gossiping, jealous or recalcitrant neighbors, and officialdom determined to eradicate those add-ons.’

Back to the present: BACK to FRONT: The artists behind the excellent work at L’Espace – who are in the midst of a project to show Hanoi as ‘a living museum embodying archives of the past and their assimilation by the changing rhythms of the modern era’ are:



Their take on Hanoi’s experiment with social housing is intriguing. They’ve titled it BACK to FRONT and Nguyen The Son has constructed a new series of his inimitable 3D photograph constructions which portray social housing as it exists today with all of its legal and illegal physical addendums.

The artist has concentrated on social housing projects that fronted streets and which, when the socialist government gradually allowed free enterprise and small private entrepreneurs to exist outside the black market, gradually became shop fronts for all sorts of business projects.
Top stories of buildings burgeoned with domestic add-ons.

Close up details of The Son’s works are deceptively illusive.




Each 3D construction is accompanied by a relief architectural elevation, a 2D drawing of the elevation, and pertinent details ie: building commencement and completion by artist, by Tran Hau Yen The.

One less complex building is indicated in the sequence below





As the 3D constructions could conceivably be accessed by sight impaired audiences, the relief elevations have accompanying Braille text


And an overview of the project is also in Braille script


A partial overview of the exhibition below:


One of my favorite works is a piece that perfectly captures early-or late- planes of light and shade


A nice addition to the show is a lovely little painting from 1980 by The Tien of a happy family in their new piece of paradise.

Kiem Van Tim is a keen observer of life in general and the Hanoi cultural scene in particular and offers some of these observations to the Grapevine. KVT insists that these observations and opinion pieces are not critical reviews. Please see our Comment Guidelines / Moderation Policy and add your thoughts in the comment field below.


  1. While perfectly all right in themselves, this images and exhibitions seem to regurgitate the same content, harping on the same visual and socio-political note for more than three years now — somewhat predictable artist’s output? And, if we ‘must’ stay on the same note … I like the mention in this article of the Royal City — this corporate / private sector urban monstrosity, complete with an endless supermarketand decorated with kitsch statues — one wonders where this vulgar expression of tasteless grandomania sprang from, which begs the question why artists that are preoccupied in their art with the city scape and the social conditioning that takes place tanks to the economic conditions of living (… to rephrase Karl Marx), are not taking their cameras etc skills to the close-up views of the on mass covered with washing balconies of the same Royal City & the multitude of security guards that guard it — that would be more ‘in tune’ with the contemporary state of social realities and as an ‘art-comment’ definitely more real…

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