Urgent conservation of old French villas in Hanoi

People who live in old insecure French villas are mindful that these works are rotten and unsafe, but they could not afford to relocate to another place so that they have no other choice but to stay.

Challenging conservation

The lifespan of many old French architectural buildings and villas that were built and put into use hundreds of years ago has expired but are still renovated for many different purposes, causing the insecurity for its dwellers and their properties.

Besides, there are also many public works which are deteriorating and affecting the city's urban aesthetics because of the lack of the management.

Potential safety risk 

Many villas were built over 100 years ago and many of them are not under regular maintenance and reparation.

After the collapse of the old French villa at 107 Tran Hung Dao (Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi) in September 2015, killing two people and injuring many others, up to now, this incident is still an obsession of many households living in old French villas in Hanoi.

Ms. Tran Bich Lan, a resident of the old French villa in Hang Co alley in the same district, said that according to regulations, people are not currently allowed to renovate and repair the old villas in the city’s list of management or preservation. Although people are mindful that these works are rotten and unsafe, they could not afford to relocate to another place.

“We really hope that the Government would have clearer regulations on management, which focus on the use and conservation of old French houses and villas. For damaged and degraded works, if the Government cannot arrange the funding for them, the residents should be allowed to renovate and repair them,"- Ms. Tran Bich Lan shared.

According to some surveys in some areas with the largest number of old French houses and villas in Hanoi, such as Hoan Kiem, Ba Dinh, Hai Ba Trung districts, in addition to the works that people are living in now, many abandoned structures are in serious deterioration, such as Villa No. 78 Nguyen Du Street (Hai Ba Trung District), which used to be the headquarters of a bank, and villa number 46 Hang Bai Street (Hoan Kiem District) with an area of 1,000m2, which used to be the office of the Literature Publishing House. and had changed hands many times in the period from 1998 to 2003 and it is now abandoned.

Architect Tran Huy Anh from the Hanoi Association of Architects said that since the 1970s, the companies that built the old French houses in Hanoi had written to the Government that the lifespan of those houses was expired and they would not be responsible for any problem.

However, many buildings are still being repaired for various purposes.

“Along with the degraded houses in use, many old French villas are public property, but no one takes the responsibility for management and they are abandoned with the high risk of collapse," he said.

 

Who takes the responsibility? 

According to statistics from the Hanoi Department of Construction, there are 1,253 old French architectural houses and villas in the city which were built before 1954 are put into the list that needs to be  preserved. Most of them are located in the  core districts, such as 527 houses in Hoan Kiem district, 428 in Ba Dinh district, 270 in Hai Ba Trung district, and the rest in Dong Da and Tay Ho districts.

Many old French villas in Hanoi have been degraded. Photo: Doan Thanh

Due to the large value and profitability of these villas, many owners have renovated them for different purposes. According to Chief Inspector of the Hanoi Department of Construction Nguyen Viet Dung, since the City People's Committee delegated inspection works to districts and wards, the handling of the construction violations has improved however it still requires more strict inspection and control from the local authorities.

“In fact, the construction regulation infringements still happens and becomes more complicated. Therefore, the urban construction management teams need to work more closely with the local authorities to detect and handle promptly and effectively violations,” Mr. Nguyen Viet Dung said.

Deputy Head of Housing and Real Estate Market Management Division (Hanoi Department of Construction) Vu Duc Thang said most old French houses and villas are built in ideal locations, with a large area on the main streets, convenient for traffic, featuring architectural and economic value and creating a highlight for Hanoi urban architecture for a combination of Western and Asian architecture, creating a unique landscape of the capital. 

“As there are many units managing, owning and using these properties, it is difficult to clarify the responsibilities and obligations to contribute funds to the maintenance, renovation and  repair. Many households still rely on the Government funding and the rent they pay is not enough to repair and maintain them," Mr. Vu Duc Thang said.

In addition, it is necessary to make an inventory of ancient houses with special value and the architectural works built before 1954 which are degraded and on the verge of being collapsed. From there, a plan to move organizations and individuals out of the dangerous area to build, renovate, restore, and maintain the villas will be devised.

Mr. Tran Ngoc Chinh

Chairman of Vietnam Urban Planning and Development Association

"Hanoi needs to review all houses with the French architecture and classify the groups of works according to construction time, value, roles in history and culture and so on. From there  a plan to restore and preserve the works could be mapped out." 

Mr. Le Xuan Vinh

A member of the Hanoi Old Quarter Hotel and Tourism Association 

"Currently, many tour companies in the Old Town are looking for rental of old French houses, but it is very difficult to find, even a dilapidated villa. They are willing to spend a lot of money on the renovation if they can find one."

Hanoitimes

French architecture in Hanoi

French architecture in Hanoi

Many old French buildings dating back over a century have still been preserved in Hanoi amid the city’s rapid urbanisation.

 
 

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