Awakening Heritage for Contemporary Life

Awakening Heritage for Contemporary Life

Written by Chii Nguyen for Unleashing Creativity Week
Photo courtesy of the Organising Committee
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On December 25, 2021, the talk “Urban Heritage – Maintain, Develop and Continue” took place within the framework of Unleashing Creativity Week. The event had the honour of welcoming Architect Professor Dr. Hoang Dao Kinh; Architect Pham Tuan Long (MA) – Chairman of Hoan Kiem District People’s Committee; and Heritage Architect Nguyen Hoang Phuong from Hanoi Old Quarter Management Board.

The talk was held with three key objectives: Communicate about what the architects in the field of heritage have been working on in recent years; Provide introduction for the community to understand the importance of the heritage that we must preserve; and How should the legacy inherited from the previous generations be preserved and continued?

The talk: “Urban Heritage – Maintain, Develop and Continue” consisted of three parts. The first was “Urban heritage – A brief history of continuation”. The second was The role of the community in heritage preservation, presented by Architect Pham Tuan Long (MA) – Chairman of Hoan Kiem District People’s Committee. The third part was Restoration of the Old Quarter – Reviving old places, presented by Heritage Architect Nguyen Hoang Phuong from Hanoi Old Quarter Management Board.

In the first session of the talk, Professor Hoang Dao Kinh explained the concepts of relics, urban heritage, and the appropriate conduct to urban heritage. He also delivered a concrete viewpoint on the necessity to allow the heritage to live and develop in contemporary life.

Urban areas are the pinnacle of community civilisation. Urban heritage has been existing for a long time. Throughout the course of history, these cities all possess the heritage of the past, big or small. Each city can maintain, retain, preserve and enhance its own appearance, spirit, and identity, ego when that city manages to keep its material and spiritual history. It is even more special if that city is able to maintain the natural flow and continuity in urban development for one reason or another, retaining the urban life without interruption. If life in the urban space can be maintained, or keeping its natural flow throughout the natural selection and the rapid development era of today, then that means those urban areas could withstand the fierce competition among the cities.

Hanoi is an urban space with a rich asset of heritage including the Old Quarter, the French Quarter, the ancient Hanoi with its ancient villages… The old structures of the Vietnamese are not grand or spectacular. The landscape art of Vietnam is harmonious and gentle, taking full advantage of nature and the personal in a seamless manner. The beauty of Hanoi thus lies right in that harmony, blending the Western and local streets on the natural landscape in the background with its ancient villages and rivers.

Heritage in urban spaces are much like living things, they have a life of their own. We thus must handle them in an appropriate manner, awakening these heritages to become part of modern life. It is not recommended to “tie up” their life and their flow, or view them as encased artefacts in the museum. The Assembly Hall at No. 22 Hang Buom, for example, is a structure that in the past existed within the community of different peoples, an embodiment of cultural symbiosis. The way we transform its use in an appropriate, civilised manner like today is the preservation of that cultural symbiosis, and at the same time awakening that relationship so that it could be continued in contemporary life.

In the two next sessions of the talk, architect Pham Tuan Long (MA) – Chairman of Hoan Kiem District People’s Committee explained the role of the government and the community in heritage preservation. Hoan Kiem District is known for its distinctive architecture, an advantage in planning. The district is working to renovate forgotten and neglected relics, transforming these locations into cultural and creative spaces for the community. On one hand, this will reduce population density, and on the other hand, create a common living space for that area.

Heritage architect Nguyen Hoang Phuong also presented useful information on “Restoration of the Old Quarter – Reviving old places” with the successfully renovated structures in recent years. Those are Ta Hien Street Area, Lan Ong Street, No. 50 Dao Duy Tu, the Fujian Assembly Hall, and the most recent is the Cantonese Assembly Hall at No. 22 Hang Buom, turning this space into a centre for art and culture. For the No. 22 Hang Buom, apart from studying the architecture, the restoration team also conducted a study on its functions so that the structure is not “encased” as if it was in a museum. Fortunately, as the project was newly completed, there are the Architecture Magazine and artists coming here to fill the space with exhibitions, talks and amazing performances.

As the talk came to an end, guest speakers and the audience enthusiastically share their feelings and opinions upon visiting the Centre for Art and Culture at 22 Hang Buom. Seeing how an architectural heritage was handled in a civilised manner, preserved, and given a new life without losing its identity, numerous visitors expressed how they were so “surprised, overwhelmed” and “admired” the work. The Centre for Art and Culture at 22 Hang Buom was once the intersection point of the Western and Eastern culture, architecture, and arts. Today, it has been revived, awakening a new vitality in the bustling city of Hanoi; becoming an open, inspirational creative space for the local communities and individuals. It is hoped that the next heritage would also be treated in the same proper manner as seen in the Centre for Art & Culture at 22 Hang Buom./

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