Despite being popular in European countries, industrial heritage is a new concept in Vietnam. Looking back many decades, due to the lack of a reasonable plan for conservation and conversion, some old factories and workshops were not maintained and have disappeared in the development process of the country.
Industrial heritage is an element of cultural heritage
The Yen Phu Electric Plant, Bo Ho Lamp Factory and March 8 Textile Factory in Hanoi were demolished. Ba Son Shipyard Factory in Ho Chi Minh City and Nam Dinh Textile Factory are no longer there, and have been replaced by new buildings, commercial centres and urban areas. They all had historical and architectural value and featured imprints of the labour and production methods of the past.
In the list of nine industrial facilities to be relocated within the next 5 years, Hanoi Brewery Factory and Gia Lam Train Factory are works of high architectural and technological value. These industrial heritages are the products of a historical period of the country, preserving the urban memory and leaving a deep mark on the people's hearts. Some factories and companies are also considered as symbols for the process of modernisation, urbanisation and industrialisation in Hanoi and Vietnam.
According to architect Pham Thuy Loan, a Vietnamese representative in the Asian industrial heritage network, industrial heritages feature the remaining values of industrial culture, including buildings, machines, workshops, factories, warehouses and stores. Together with their partners, her team conducted a survey on the current status of several factories and companies that are being relocated from the inner city, with three factories having clear heritage values. They are Gia Lam Train Factory (now on Nguyen Van Cu Street), Thang Long Tobacco Factory (Nguyen Trai Street), and Hanoi Brewery Factory (Hoang Hoa Tham Street).
According to the survey’s results, the remaining area of Gia Lam Train Factory covers about 20ha, consisting a group of houses built in 1988 with support from the Polish Government. Gia Lam Train Factory is considered an industrial heritage representing internationalism, friendship and a production model with a focus on heavy industry. This is also the only railway facility in Vietnam that allowed 1,435mm gauges to enter the workshops.
Hanoi Brewery Factory was built in the early 20th century; however, the current French-style architecture of the three villas, which are used as offices, remains intact. The current status of workshops 1 and 2, which were constructed during the 1930s-1940s is still good. From the perspective of heritage, these are considered the first surveys about the status and value of the old factories. With the unique values related to architecture, history and society, the preservation, reconstruction and transformation of industrial heritages is very necessary and appropriate.
In the context that Hanoi is lacking land fund for building public spaces, instead of demolishing and building modern buildings, mega-cities or apartments, the city should take advantage, renovate and reuse part of or all of these industrial facilities in creative spaces, tourist attractions or attractive art and entertainment centres to meet the demand of cultural enjoyment for people.
Thus, the memories about Hanoi will continue to be preserved as living evidence of the development stages of the capital. The creative spaces are also the infrastructure for the development of the cultural industry and a factor promoting the interaction and connection between people and the city.
Official Pham Thi Lan Anh from the Hanoi Municipal Department of Culture and Sports said the concept of industrial heritage in Vietnam is still quite new. In early February this year, Hanoi was the first locality in the country to issue a resolution on developing cultural industry. Therefore, the content and activities related to the development of cultural industries and a creative city are new features for the capital city. Due to a lack of experience, the supporting mechanisms and policies have not been implemented extensively.
New direction from industrial heritage reconstruction
The series of workshops entitled “Reconstruction of Industrial Heritages in 2022 - Innovation and Sustainability” were organised by French Cultural Fund, Goethe-Institute, French Institute and UNESCO Vietnam in collaboration with Hanoi University of Architecture and Vietnam Sustainability Social Enterprise (VSSE) following the city’s decision to relocate nine old industrial facilities out of the inner city. Coincidentally, the workshops took place at the creative space named 282 Workshop in Long Bien District, which was converted from a mortar factory into a multi-functional space.
From a professional perspective, Phan Dang Son, Chairman of the Vietnam Association of Architects, said there has been no successful and specific reconstruction model of industrial heritage in Vietnam. The initial trend is to convert industrial facilities into urban and commercial areas. However, the model of recreating industrial heritage is a new direction for sustainable development and is very necessary for Vietnamese cities in meeting the criteria of cultural development and ensuring a balance between environment and socio-economic development.
According to architect Pham Trung Hieu from Hanoi Architectural University, Hanoi is lacking a solid infrastructure system serving the sustainable creative development. Proposing a model of community-based cultural and creative space for Gia Lam Train Factory, the architects suggested a plan to renovate and organise functional use with the three main items being a museum for railway industry, a community creative space, and green and art parks.
The museum will act as a space for generations to connect. Thanks to proper preservation and effective management and investment, it can be seen that the proposed solutions and models can fully meet the criteria related to economy and conservation and development of culture, thus meeting the demand of citizens.
In addition to stable multi-functional spaces such as Hanoi Creative City, Vicas Art Studio, Bluebirds' Nest and Toong, many creative spaces have closed or moved their locations due to a lack of spaces and infrastructure. Overall, Hanoi has more than 100 factories that must be relocated from the inner city. These old industrial facilities are suitable resources for the development of creative hubs, opening opportunities to develop centres for culture, fashion, cinema, design, etc. They are expected to boost the development of cultural industry and creative economy.
However, until a plan is made to use this land fund, the concept of industrial heritage should be clarified to recognise industrial heritage as an element of cultural heritage in general, thereby creating a mechanism for industrial heritage. The city’s authorities should conduct surveys of the current status and assess the potential of old factories and workshops towards making appropriate conservation, conversion and exploitation plans.
As a member of UNESCO Creative Cities Network, when placing culture at the heart of its development strategy and driving force for the development of the cultural industry as well as harmonising the economic benefits and environmental factors, Hanoi will make many creative breakthroughs and have its own identity from the spaces that connect the past and the present, thereby supporting creative and start-up communities.