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Architecture Conservation in Hoi An

When we think about a living museum, it’s mainly about how the people’s traditions, as well as their locality, were preserved for others to experience. The visitor could see and feel how is the culture was different from theirs, from the locals itself, their rituals, the cuisine, as well as their dwellings. It is important that the living museum shows how unique and distinct their own history is and they should display them in a specific manner so that the visitor could fully experience it.

In early March 2017, we have an opportunity to visit one of the well-preserved examples of a Southeast Asian trading port that dated back from the 15th – 19th century, Hoi An Ancient Town. It is located in the lower section of Thu Bon River, in Quang Nam Province, about 30 kilometers south of Da Nang City, Central Vietnam. In the historical description inside one of the ancient house-turned-museum in Hoi An, the Ancient Town was known as a prosperous seaport in Southeast Asia and has become a melting pot of various culture that has settled in Hoi An over the past few years. Even though now the trading activities had long moved elsewhere, Hoi An’s long attempt to preserve and restore their roots has been recognized by UNESCO and finally, it was declared as World Heritage site in December 1999.

Hoi An was known for its old-town architecture and has been considered one of the successful living museum in Vietnam. Mostly, the town houses originally date from the 17th to 18th century, and they underwent renovation at the beginning of the 19th century. Since the end of the 20th century, numbers of houses have been restored by local government, collaborating with Japanese experts. Their architecture was mainly influenced by Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese cultures. Some of the notable ones are Chinese temples, a Japanese bridge, shop-houses, and old canals. Their outstanding architectural details can be seen throughout the town, for example, the houses mainly have a low tile-roofed, one or two-story floors, mostly were made of wood, with Chinese-characters engraved panels and pillars, and all is located along the narrow streets with the house’s front facing the streets for convenient access while the back is facing the river allowing easy loading and off-loading of goods from boats that were useful back in time. Among all, the Japanese Bridge is the most impressive sight in my opinion, because of its stunning structure. It was constructed for access between the Japanese and Chinese neighborhoods of Hoi An at that time and it is said to be among the most ornate bridges in Vietnam.

Nowadays, Hoi An has become one of the most visited tourist destination in Vietnam. Thus, the incredible legacy of the houses, temples, and warehouses has been gradually replaced by tourist businesses. Restaurants, cafés, hotels, souvenir shops and tailor shops are very much part of the surroundings nowadays and mostly are belonged to private sectors. The Vietnamese government has made several efforts to protect this historic area, but there hasn’t any policy to control the façade image of the old houses and it leads to the disorganized plaque name in front of the houses. Other problem Hoi An faced, besides the annual flood because of the rising water level from the canal in the rainy season, as well as the sudden fire that struck the houses, is the limited human resources for repairing the frail structure of the old houses. So, it took a long time to repair if the houses were damaged and the cost is not cheap. The management of the Ancient Town is mostly funded by tourists, who must buy a ticket to enter the area, but then it’s also become a problem because to attract more tourist so that they can get more profits rapidly, many locals decided to destroyed several ancient and culturally valuable houses to create more space to carry out their business. Also, rather than investing in restoring those important architectures and heritages, many locals have bought several old houses located close together and torn down its walls to create one large area to expand their business. In my opinion, I think Hoi An still need better solutions for its tourism management and tighter restriction for more sustainable developments for its property so it can help maintain Hoi An original charm in the face of a booming tourist industry. (A.P.)