Two specialist groups have spoken out about the loss of heritage buildings and opportunities for looking for ways to make it profitable to carry out preservation.
HCM City has about 3,000 valuable old houses and villas that could be preserved but could likely be demolished, according to the Architecture Research Centre at the city’s Department of Planning & Architecture. Of that number, nearly 1,300 houses were built before 1975. About 168 of them are under state management and receive funds from the city for repair and preservation.
However, only eight houses remain in good condition, according to the Urban Research & Development Centre.
Every year, the city loses more heritage buildings to urbanisation, poor urban planning and a lack of awareness about their economic value, said the specialists from the city and from an architectural association. Recently, many old or historic buildings, including villas in District 3 and Binh Thanh District, have been demolished to make way for new buildings. Many other old buildings and villas have fallen into disrepair.
Under city regulations, if the villas are museums or state-owned houses, they can be maintained and preserved. However, a large number that are private properties have not been taken care of properly. The city does not have support or management policies to help owners preserve their houses.
To save the old villas, more research and evaluation should be done to determine the value of the old villas, it has been suggested.
Architect Nguyen Van Tat, chairman of the Architectural Council at the HCM City Association of Architects, said conservation must focus not only on development but profitability. Tat said that preserved heritage buildings could earn profits. However, he noted that a heritage site should be free for the public to visit, and that money for preservation must come from third parties. For example, a heritage building used to exhibit pottery could be open to the public, but the full cost of the operation would be sponsored by a ceramic company, which would benefit from the publicity.
Le Quang Ninh, chairman of the Urban Architecture Landscape Conservation Programme in HCM City, said the ineffectiveness of the preservation of old buildings and villas has been due largely to the lack of involvement of economists. Economic efficiency is considered a key issue in the preservation of heritage buildings.
Businesses and economists must work together to work out a conservation plan with local authorities and professionals in the field, Ninh said.
Valuable old buildings, mostly built during the French colonial period, include the HCM City People’s Court (built in 1881), King’s Palace or Revolutionary Museum (1885), Majestic Hotel and Notre Dame Cathedral (1887), Sai Gon Post Office (1886-1891), HCM City’s People’s Committee (1907), Opera House (1900) and Ben Thanh Market (1912-1914).
Many colonial villas have been renovated and now house schools, restaurants and coffee shops. Most of them are located in District 3 on Tu Xuong, Vo Van Tan, Nguyen Dinh Chieu, Le Quy Don, and Tran Quoc Thao streets.