Hundreds of old houses and villas in Ho Chi Minh City are falling prey to irreversible degradation as competent authorities continue categorizing the type of construction allowable for preservation.
According to the Architecture Research Centre under the municipal Department of Planning and Architecture, nearly 1,300 residences in the southern hub were built prior to 1975 with designs typical of Saigon, the precursor of Ho Chi Minh City.
Though the residences have historical value, many of the structures have fallen into states of severe degradation, been deconstructed, or encroached upon by local settlers.
The majority of the historical villas on record are located in District 1 and 3, but a recent survey carried out by the Architecture Research Centre shows that up to 50 percent of the houses no longer exist.
Contributing to the problem is the inability of owners to acquire permission to renovate their houses due to complicated and prolonged procedures.
In accordance with regulations, any alterations done to the old villas must be approved by the municipal People’s Committee based on the assessment of the Department of Planning and Architecture.
All requests for renovation and reconstruction of historical villas must be submitted to the department and for evaluation on a case-by-case basis.
The process has been sluggish since May 2013, when Ho Chi Minh City administration enacted the preservation of houses built before 1975, according to some officials from the Department of Planning and Architecture.
Preservation efforts required the categorization of houses in the southern hub based on specific criteria and content, the officials continued, adding no official document has been issued to state these requirements in the past three years.
The inability to renovate has kept many residents living in fear of being caught under a collapsing house while they wait out the approval process for repairs to their houses.
Are they all worth being preserved?
According to Le Quang Ninh, a local architect, not many old villas in Ho Chi Minh City are worth conservation, as only a few of them embody the typical designs of urban Saigon.
Ninh assessed that the artistic value of the houses was only average, adding that they could not be considered national relics due to their small scale.
In order to carry out preservation processes, the city administration will need to solve any conflict of interests between house owners and maintenance works, according to the expert.
He recommended that authorities focus on location, scale, and other specifications of the construction projects as prioritized criteria for preservation.
“The current procedure for such conservation efforts is against common rules, and has resulted in many challenges and problems that leave us open to complaints from the public,” the architect said.