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Experts lambaste Hanoi Opera House’s new paint job

Sunday, July 26, 2015, 17:43 GMT+7
Experts lambaste Hanoi Opera House’s new paint job
The façade of the Hanoi Opera House is seen covered with a new yellow paint layer.

Conservation experts and architects in Vietnam have frowned on the overly bright, intense new paint job on the Hanoi Opera Theater, one of the capital’s most prominent icons and tourist attractions.

>> An audio version of the story is available here

The new coating is part of the regular maintenance work that is going on at the Hanoi Opera House, located at 1 Trang Tien, Hoan Kiem District.

The mansion, which is not far from Hoan Kiem Lake, another hallmark, was built by French people in 1901 and modeled after a theater in Paris.

After being put into use in 1911, the grand theater has been a venue for numerous major cultural and artistic events, and grown into one of the capital city’s most popular tourist attractions.

The mansion underwent a major facelift which began in 1994 and was completed three years later.

The ongoing makeover mostly consists of applying a new layer of paint to the theater and carrying out minor repairs to a number of interior details, Nguyen Thi Minh Nguyet, director of the theater’s management, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper this week.

However, the bright new shade of yellow on the façade of the opera house has drawn ire among the public and Vietnamese architects and conservation pundits over the past few days.


Several veteran architects and conservation authorities consider the new paint on the Hanoi Opera House’s front an uncalculated treatment of the century-old mansion.

They are all of the opinion that the new shade of yellow is overly bright and intense for such a time-honored, French-style edifice.

“The theater’s tastefully designed vertical face all conform to architectural, esthetic benchmarks. The mansion’s architectural, decorative congruity will thus be seriously disrupted if visually striking, intense coatings are applied to these vertical areas,” Professor Hoang Dao Kinh told Tuoi Tre.

Prof. Kinh is a respected architect and conservation specialist who partook in the theater’s substantial facelift back in 1994.

“The new gaudy paint will certainly upset the theater’s elegance and tastefulness,” he stressed.

Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper cited him as saying that the controversial new coating resembles that of a flag which was used during the French rule decades ago to announce the outbreak of cholera raging in the capital city.

During the major 1994 revamp on the occasion of a conference which was organized in Vietnam and gathered statesmen from Francophone countries, the choice of a new paint coating was taken into close consideration by different expert councils, Prof. Kinh told Tuoi Tre.

“Some holding managerial positions back then were insistent on a yellow color which was as gaudy and intense as that currently applied on the theater façade. We experts finally decided on a light, tasteful yellow which was a perfect fit for the mansion’s French style,” he recalled.

The professor advised that the paint – which was decided on back then, highly appreciated by Vietnam’s then-Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet and France’s then-President Francois Mitterrand, and adopted so far – should be retained.

Nguyet, the director of the management of the Hanoi Opera House, assured Tuoi Tre that the new color is a “base paint layer only” and a few others may be needed later.

“The new color should thus be subject to public and media comment until after its completion,” she added.

Nguyet affirmed that the management had referred to archives of the massive revamp 20 years ago.

She admitted, however, that they have yet to come up with a final paint color.

The director of the Hanoi Opera House, which has been recognized as a national relic, asserted that the management had secured consent from the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism and the Department of Cultural Heritage.

As the theater is under the culture ministry’s administration, its management do not need to obtain permission from the Hanoi Department of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, Nguyet maintained.

Tran Dinh Thanh, deputy head of the Department of Cultural Heritage, confirmed to Tuoi Tre on Thursday that the Hanoi Opera House’s management are authorized to conduct regular maintenance work, including the new coating.

F4AWGafh.jpgA new paint layer is applied on the walls on the sides of the Hanoi Opera House. Photo: Tuoi Tre

He added they have complied with relevant regulations.

However, unlike Nguyet, Thanh did not call the controversial coating a “base paint layer” but “one applied on a pilot basis.”

“If this layer of paint is found to be incongruous, more layers will be needed,” he noted.


Truong Minh Tien, deputy head of the Hanoi Department of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, told Tuoi Tre on Thursday that though the Hanoi Opera House is administered by the culture ministry, its management board is still supposed to consult officials at his department before any makeover, as the mansion is located in the capital city.

The department has yet to hear of the revamp from the management so far, he underlined.

Similarly, Prof. Kinh complained that he and other pundits who partook in the theater’s major facelift two decades ago were not consulted either.

Meanwhile, several Vietnamese architects found the new paint color outrageously unacceptable, irrespective of whether it is a “base paint layer” or “one applied on a pilot basis.”

Architect Pham Thanh Tung, chief of the Vietnam Architects Association Office, said that it is a feeble excuse to claim that the new flamboyant yellow is a “base paint layer.”

“Technically speaking, people often choose neutral, light colors – such as white – when it comes to base paint layers, before the selected official color is applied at least twice,” he explained.

Tung added today’s technological advances have allowed architects to try out different paint colors and shades on the computer before deciding on an appropriate official one and applying it on the real structure.

“It’s not logical either to say that the new layer is applied on a pilot basis, as people all put on the experimental paint layer on a small area, not the entire façade. Moreover, there’s no room for trial and error with such a historically momentous heritage,” he noted.

Tung added that it is absurd for the theater’s management to search for alternatives to the perfect paint color which has been applied since the massive facelift in 1994.

Concurring with Tung, architect/artist Ly Truc Dung, director of Buffalo Architects Co., asserted that the person who said the new color is a “base paint layer only” is ignorant of the structure painting technology.

“It usually takes two or three layers of paint for the finish to be perfect. The following layers must be in the same category and code as the original. That means if the original layer is a gaudy yellow, the following will be in the same shade of yellow,” he further explained.

Dao Ngoc Nghiem, a former chief architect in Hanoi, recommended that the colors and shades of the paint to be used should be always taken into careful consideration when it comes to the construction of momentous structures, in order to make sure the new coatings are not gaudy and are congruous and tasteful.

Phan Dinh Tan, office chief of the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, told Tuoi Tre on Friday that the ministry has requested the management of the Hanoi Opera House to use the paint color which has been adopted since the 1994 makeover.

He added that the painting, which is meant to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the August Revolution (August 19), National Day (September 2), and the 70th founding anniversary of the country's culture, sports and tourism sectors, is slated for completion by August 28.

As observed by Tuoi Tre reporters, construction workers on Friday began putting a layer of white paint over the debatable yellow paint on the façade of the Hanoi Opera House.

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