Vietnam’s architectural gems are disappearing

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Vietnam's architectural gems are disappearing
Saigon Skyline

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Vietnam's architectural gems are disappearing
Saigon Skyline

Once an architectural gem emblematic of Vietnam’s era as a French colony, the Tax Trade Center with its iconic Art Deco facade is now mostly rubble.

Despite a petition drive spearheaded by a growing historic preservation movement, the building was demolished in recent months. In its place, developers plan a 43-story complex with a connection to the first subway line in the city.

The Tax Center, built in 1924, is one of many historic buildings in the last 20 years that have been razed or severely altered, according to a joint French-Vietnamese government research center.

Preservationists say developers and government officials are intent on making this city modern and care little for the vestiges of its colonial past. But destroying so many historic buildings, they warn, makes the city less livable and less attractive to tourists — which could undercut economic growth the government hopes to foster.

“The more people get caught up in a consumerist lifestyle, the more difficult it is to address what are considered ‘luxury’ concerns like heritage preservation,” said architect Tran Huu Khoa, 27, a leader of the petition drive that couldn’t save the Tax Trade Center. “But I’m optimistic that a strong civil movement is growing in Vietnam.”

The Heritage Observatory website launched in late January, open to anyone who wants to call attention to any threatened historical building in any Vietnamese city. The information will be relayed to government and civil groups who could intervene.

The government has no such system in place. Researchers, historians and others involved in architectural preservation say a comprehensive inventory is a critical first step in raising awareness about the value of historical architecture. […]

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