Hanoi is an attractive city partly due to its architectural works. The mingling between ancient oriental architectural designs and French architecture has created Hanoi ’s own architectural space, both ancient and modern, which will exist forever in time.
Hanoi ’s old architecture is mainly reflected in the Old Quarter, which is also called the “36 streets”. Houses in this quarter were small and roofed with thatch leaves or tiles. A typical house usually had three compartments separated by a yard. In a family, the wife was the trader and the husband was a craftsman.
When the children grew up and got married, their parents allotted a compartment to each couple. If more living space was needed, the compartment would be extended vertically and had several floors. Therefore the houses in the old quarter were several metres wide and tens of metres deep and had two or three floors, hence they were called tube-shaped houses. This architectural style, normally seen in Vietnam ’s old urban areas, provides ventilation and light.
Beside the tube-shaped houses Hanoi’s old quarter also has temples, pagodas and shrines which were worshipping places of villages, hamlets and guilds in the past. These works show that the residents of the capital city came from different parts of the country to earn their living and settle.
The appearance of French architectural works with distinctive characteristics in the late 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century has helped create specific imprints on Hanoi ’s architecture. The French architecture first appeared in Hanoi in 1803 when King Gia Long ordered the re-construction of the Hanoi Citadel with the Vauban design under the instruction of four French engineers.
However, it was not until the French established the concession area in 1875 by the bank of the Red River (stretching from present-day Pham Ngu Lao Street to Military Hospital 108 and Friendship Hospital) that the French architectural works really had established a hallmark in Hanoi. Today the artistic features, technical structures and traditional building materials of many works which were built in different areas in Hanoi during that time virtually remain in tact.
After conquering the whole Indochina, the French carried out large-scale construction in Hanoi with the aim of turning the city into the capital of the whole of Indochina. Hence the large office buildings of the French colonialist administration, such as the Palace of the Governor-General of Indochina, the Palace of the French Resident Superior and the Court were built. To show the power of a new government, classical architectural styles were used.
In the 1920s Art Deco architecture came into fashion in Hanoi and flourished in the 1930s. The use of classic shapes as well as square, rectangle and semi-cylinder cubes in the space compositions created an architectural style, both modern and simple. In addition, decorative patterns made of steel or bas-reliefs made of cement and gypsums with supple lines reduced the heavy images of concrete blocks. Representative of this style are some typical works, such as the Branch Office of Indochinese Bank, IDEO Printing House (No. 42 Trang Tien Street), AVIA Company (No. 39 Tran Hung Dao Street), Post Office (6 Dinh Le Street), houses at No. 91 Dinh Tien Hoang Street and No. 31 Trang Tien Street and many other villas scattered from Ba Dinh District to the end of Ba Trieu and Hang Chuoi Streets.
After a lot of works were put into use it became apparent they were unsuitable to the climate as well as to the traditional aesthetics and landscape of Hanoi . Many French architects and later Vietnamese architects created the Indochinese architectural style in which the traditional architectural details of Vietnam and Kh’mer were used to produce the roofs, porch roofs and decorative patterns. Some of typical works include the University of Indochina (No.19, Le Thanh Tong Street), the Finance Bureau, the Louis Finot Museum (No.1 Pham Ngu Lao Street), Institute of Pasteur (No. 1 Yersin Street), Cua Bac Cathedral and Naval Club (No. 36 Tran Phu Street).
Also the Neo-Gothic architectural style which is often seen in the cathedrals in Hanoi should be mentioned. It features a cross-shaped foundation with three sections in the front including the main entrance gate in the middle with a “rose” window above, and two sub-entrance gates on the two sides, topped with a bell tower. Typical of the Neo-Gothic architectural works in Hanoi are the Catholic Church in Hoan Kiem District, a small church in Hoang Mai District and Tam Village ’s Church. These works bear the French Gothic architecture with a harmonious composition accompanied by many decorative patterns of Gothic style. In general, the Neo-Gothic style in Hanoi is attached with the architecture of Catholic churches. Its aesthetic value is not high but its historical and landscape values are great.
MA, architect Tran Quoc Bao, a lecturer at the University of Civil Engineering said: “Until now the French architecture in Hanoi is still beautiful and represents an architectural style of a period, with a system of technical infrastructure and structures of the works, meeting the needs of people in the capital city.”
The architecture and space in Hanoi have changed with time. Many streets have been renewed or expanded. New streets have been built. Many modern projects and high-rise buildings have been set up during the process of modernizing the capital city. The familiar architectural works in Hanoi have also experienced changes. However, for Hanoians the beloved architectural features in the city will exist forever, highlighting a distinctive beauty of this thousand-year-old city.