Critics argue the list does not help conservation efforts but provides a legal ground for the demolition of unlisted buildings in Hue, Vietnam’s ancient capital
Twenty-seven buildings and structures considered ‘quintessential’ to French architecture in Hue, the capital of the central Vietnamese province of Thua Thien-Hue, have been listed for conservation, but critics believe there is more to the decision than meets the eye.
According to the administration of Hue, the list, which includes 27 buildings and structures erected during the French colonial period in Vietnam between 1884 and 1945, is the first in a series of efforts to preserve and promote the values of French architecture in the city.
A number of university and K-12 school campuses as well as museums, hotels and churches are among items targeted for preservation.
These include both state-managed and privately-owned properties, such as the Hue University, Hue Museum of Culture, Hue Railway Station, Saigon Morin Hotel, Hue Bishop’s Palace, and Le Domaine de Cocodo Hotel, and a chapel inside the St Paul Cathedral.
However, experts have questioned the criteria on which the structures have been selected. Some of the listed items were not even built during the French colonial era, while many other French-built buildings that are in dire need of conservation were not included.
Construction of two of the listed buildings, the Phu Cam Cathedral and the Redemptorist Church, for example, began in 1959 and 1960, respectively, meaning they cannot be counted as examples of colonial French architecture, according to Nguyen Xuan Hoa, a former director of Thua Thien-Hue culture department.
“There have been rumors that any buildings not listed for conservation would be open for demolition,” Hoa said.
Hoa was hinting at an age-old villa located at number 26 Le Loi Street, considered to be an invaluable example of French architecture, which is on the verge of disappearing as city officials want to destroy it to make way for the development of new urban areas. The building is not on the conservation list.
Le Toan Thang, deputy director of Thua Thien-Hue's construction department, said the conflict between development and conservation exists in any growing cities, and that not all French structures are of significant value that need to be conserved.
“As for the villa at 26 Le Loi, the province’s stance is to have it demolished to clear land for urban development according to an approved detailed plan of urban spaces along the Huong [Perfume] River,” he said.
The idea that any building outside of those listed for conservation is up for destruction could doom efforts to preserve the local French architectural heritage, according to Prof. Dr. Hoang Dao Kinh, an influential architect.
Dr. Kinh considers French architecture in Hue to be one of the most unique examples of colonial architecture adopting native elements in its design and scale, making it very different from French-built structures in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi.
Twenty-seven buildings are therefore not enough to represent France’s influence on the local architecture over more than half a century, Dr. Kinh explained.