Tran Huyen

Young people are championing the preservation of Vietnam’s cultural and architectural heritage

In 2014, Ho Chi Minh City authorities advocated the demolition of the Saigon Tax Trade Center, which was under the management of Saigon Trading Group (SATRA), to make way for a 40-storey commercial center.

The Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum is popular with young people wishing to explore culture and old architecture

The Saigon Tax Trade Center had its groundbreaking ceremony in 1922 and its official inauguration on November 26th, 1924, back when it was called Grands Magasins Charner (GMC). In the olden days, this classic example of Art Deco architecture was the most luxurious and bustling commercial hub in Indochine. Over time, its name and owners changed, yet the Saigon Tax Trade Center remained a rare urban architectural heritage, worth preserving for its unique architecture and artistic value.

Learning of the Saigon Tax Trade Center’s upcoming demolition, many heritage-lovers both in and outside the country objected, asking for the preservation of this historic and decorative building. Among them were members of the “Saigon Heritage Observatory”, made up of young architects and researchers in various fields including history, culture, arts, conservation, and museums. These young people love Vietnam’s culture and history, and are determined to protect them.

"Saigon Heritage Observatory" called for the preservation of the historic Saigon Tax Trade Center

The “Saigon Heritage Observatory” and several other groups launched an advocacy campaign to preserve the Saigon Tax Trade Center, successfully catching Ho Chi Minh City authorities’ attention. While the Saigon Tax Trade Center was officially demolished in October 2016, all architectural elements of historic and fine art value were carefully preserved to be incorporated into the new building. The saved features include mosaic tiles handcrafted in North Africa, and the building’s classic staircase, domed roof, and clock tower.

Following this success, the young members of “Saigon Heritage Observatory” continued working to preserve other architectural gems, including Dinh Thuong Thu Palace in Ho Chi Minh City, and Palace Hill in Dalat.

The founding of “Saigon Heritage Observatory” in 2014 inspired more youngsters to form other groups to raise public awareness about the protection of cultural heritages and the development of sustainable tourism.

 Hanoi and its surrounding areas have become a cradle of preservationist groups. While they have different ideas and operations, they share a common vision: to preserve and honor our cultural heritages. Among these, “Den Mieu Viet” (Vietnamese Temples and Pagodas) uses photography to introduce the architecture and statues of temples and pagodas in the Northern Delta to the public. This group shares in-depth information about the origins, history, fine arts, and cultural values of these religious heritages.

"Dinh Lang Viet" organizes cultural activities like honoring Vietnam’s traditional ao dai

Another group called “Dinh lang Viet” (Vietnamese Communal Houses) researches distinctive communal houses in Northern Vietnam. They share photos and videos about these architectural sites on social media; warn the public about damaged sites; and call for help with their restoration and renovation. Members of “Dinh Lang Viet” also organize another meaningful activity: honoring Vietnam’s traditional Ao dai. Dressed in the traditional “five-panel ao dai – turban – sandals”, these advocates visit famous temples, communal houses, and idyllic rural landscapes to capture the community’s attention and spark young people’s interest in Vietnam’s traditions and culture.

A third group, known as “SEN Heritage”, is a collective of young researchers in various fields, such as ancient arts, the Sino-Vietnamese language, architecture, painting, and graphic design, who are led by experts in areas like heritage preservation, archeology, history, and art. They hope to draw young people’s attention toward cultural heritages that have been destroyed or lost due to time, warfare, and human actions. Recently, “SEN Heritage” introduced their first product: a 3D virtual reality tour of the Ly Dynasty Dien Huu One-Pillar Pagoda. Their simulation of the architecture and fine arts of the Ly-Tran Era introduced viewers to sites such as Quang Chieu Lantern; the pagoda and tower of Sung Thien Dien Linh; Bao Thien Tower; and Linh Xung Pagoda at Nguong Son Mountain.

More young people wish to protect age-old values

Speaking of their virtual reality efforts, “SEN Heritage” stated: “The VR3D forms and architectural ratios of Dien Huu One-Pillar Pagoda of the Ly Era were processed based on specific data to help stimulate, promote, teach, and preserve the essence of Dai Viet Culture in the Ly Era until the present.”

Meanwhile, in Ho Chi Minh City, “Tan man kien truc Group” (Architectural Excursions) launched in April 2019. This group includes many young architects who specialize in preserving architectural and fine art heritages. In only one and a half years of operation, the group’s website has published more than 800 bilingual posts illustrated with valuable and interesting documentary photos to introduce architectural heritages, mostly in the South and Central Vietnam. Needless to say, their work adds to the research into and preservation of Vietnam’s ancient architectural sites, especially those from the Nguyen Dynasty and French colonial times.

With great enthusiasm and a deep affection for our heritages, today’s young generation is helping to preserve, honor, and promote Vietnam’s cultural heritages, values, and knowledge to other youngsters and the community.