The architects and city planners who took part in the June 14 workshop objected to the option of choosing 23-9 park as the location of the new Ho Chi Minh City Ballet and Symphony Orchestra and Opera (HBSO), while artists and cultural officials thought otherwise.
The new location for the theater has been discussed at several seminars over the past seven years, and no decision has been reached.
The participants at the most recent workshop remained divided over the two options: one is 23-9 park, at 2 Pham Ngu Lao Street, District 1; and the other is the Thu Thiem new urban area, the 657-hectare land plot along the Saigon River in District 2.
Against the 23-9 park option
According to architect Nguyen Van Tat, vice chair of the Vietnam Architect Association, as one of the city’s culturally monumental works, the theater deserves a beautiful land plot.
“The 23-9 park land strip, which is too narrow to allow a good view from afar, isn’t an ideal plot and should be a flower garden in front of buildings only. Besides, is a plot measuring 60 meters in width big enough to house the theater?”, he asked.
Tat also expressed his concern that since the strip is surrounded by many commercial buildings, it is too noisy and busy to build the theater, which is considered a cultural and artistic mecca.
Meanwhile, Huynh Van Muoi, chair of the HCMC Fine Arts Association, pointed out that as the area surrounding the park already boasts architectural works which need to be preserved, such as Huyen Sy church and the New World Hotel, the new theater would be artistically and culturally overwhelming.
Several architects and urban planners suggested that the new theater be located in the Thu Thiem new urban area, as the edifice wouldn’t clash architecturally with time-honored mansions in downtown District 1, while allowing for more freedom and creativity in designing it.
Dr. Nguyen Minh Hoa, head of the HCMC University of Social Sciences and the Humanities’ Urban Studies Department, is set on protecting the park’s green space, as well as the healthy environment it helps create.
“If we build the symphony theater there, only the wealthy will be able to afford it and benefit from it. But if we leave the park as it is, lower-class people can come to breathe in fresh air and relax in the shade of trees,” he stressed.
For the 23-9 park option
Meanwhile, some participants expressed their support for the 23-9 park option.
German architect Torten Illgen, CEO of Vietnam Inros-Lackner, the theater project’s counselor and builder, said that the park plot absolutely fits the theater, which is to be built on a 1-1.2 hectare plot.
He also noted that there’re several options for the theater’s layout, and such problems as the urban aesthetics, noise, narrow space, and traffic as mentioned above are solvable.
“As for me, the narrowness of the plot is indeed an advantage, as good views are allowable from the high-rise buildings along the plot. Also, if the theater is built in the park plot, it’ll be on the same line with the HCMC Opera House. This creates a unique cultural space and a future attractive walking street, which a European like me and tourists really love,” remarked Illgen.
Several artists and cultural officials are also in favor the park option.
Prof. Hoang Cuong, former head of the HCMC Music Conservatory, argued that as the theater won’t occupy the entire plot, locals can still enjoy the park’s greenery, shade and fresh air.
Dr. Van Thi Minh Huong, head of the HCMC Music Conservatory, also expressed support for the park option, but suggested that the theater be built in both the park and the Thu Thiem area.
She suggested building these two theaters at different times, with the park option to be implemented now and the Thu Thiem option to be added in 20 years’ time.
“With so many hotels, high-rises, and shopping malls, we need a theater to balance between corporate and cultural activities,” she elaborated.
Meanwhile, conductor Tran Vuong Thach, head of the HBSO, pointed out that if the new theater is built in Thu Thiem, the location would offer a spectacular view, especially at night. However, the location is marred by the fact the theater would sit next to the Thu Thiem 2 bridge.
“The theater should be built in the Thu Thiem area’s central square or at the river fork, opposite the Nha Rong wharf, which offers a stunning view from all directions. This is my dream,” he suggested.
Thach also reiterated the fact that the city is now in dire need of standard theaters, and the theaters currently in use, including the HCMC Opera House, Hoa Binh and Ben Thanh theaters can’t meet demand and need upgraded.
Meanwhile, Tran Ngoc Chinh, chair of the Vietnam Urban Planning and Developing Association, said that the lack of planning for cultural and sports facilities has led to the prolonged controversy and procrastination regarding the theater project, which is a waste of time and has resulted in many lost opportunities.