Revitalizing industrial heritage in the heart of Hanoi

If effectively utilized, the repurposing of industrial heritage can be a valuable asset, allowing us to pay tribute to our cultural and historical heritage while also generating economic benefits.

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Industrial heritage refers to the remains of industrial plants, which include historical, social, scientific, and technological properties. If effectively utilized, industrial heritage can be a valuable resource that generates economic value.

A young visitor to the Hanoi Creative Design Festival 2023 at Gia Lam Train Factory. Photo: Tattoo & Bamboo Workshop

A recent seminar held as part of the Hanoi Creative Design Festival 2023 titled “Repurposing Heritage in the Heart of Hanoi – Approach from Creative Exploitation and Value Promotion” emphasized the need for policy focus, social participation, and creativity in preserving and repurposing industrial heritage.

Awakening industrial heritage

Like other forms of cultural heritage, industrial heritage must be preserved as a testament to the nation’s history. As part of the Hanoi Creative Design Festival 2023, the Hang Dau Water Tower and Gia Lam Train Factory, two industrial relics, have been renovated into creative spaces. This timely effort aims to preserve and promote the historical, social, scientific-technological, and aesthetic values of heritage, contributing to the development of Hanoi’s tourism sector.

In 2022, Hanoi made the decision to relocate nine industrial plants from downtown Hanoi within the next five years. The plants include Nhan Dan Newspaper Printing Company, Hanoimoi Newspaper Printing Company, Hanoi Beer-Alcohol-Beverage Joint Stock Corporation, Thang Long Tobacco Company, Vietnam News Agency Printing and Trading Company, Gia Lam Train Factory, Hanoi Railway Passenger Transport Company, Duc Giang Oil Depot, Agricultural Publishing House Company, and Vietnam Institute of Industrial Chemistry.

The Water Palace exhibition by artist Trinh Minh Tien at Gia Lam Train Factory. Photo: The organizers of Hanoi Creative Design Festival 2023

Unlocking the potential of industrial heritage

Factories and industrial sites are often associated with old, run-down buildings. However, some of these buildings have architectural value and preserve urban memories. Currently, Hanoi and Vietnam lack a model for the conversion of old industrial estates.

By harmoniously combining the economic benefits with the cultural purposes of transforming industrial heritage, Hanoi can achieve creative breakthroughs and create its own identity that bridges the past and the present.

Research conducted by architect Dr. Dinh Thi Hai Yen identified 185 industrial buildings in Hanoi, out of which 95 are still functioning, and the rest have been damaged or converted. These buildings were built between different periods, starting from before 1945.

The Light and Water Installation inside Hang Dau Water Tower. Photo courtesy of the event organisers of Hanoi Creative Design Festival 2023

“Industrial heritage always carries historical, aesthetic, and social traces. Many heritage sites have great value for people, associated with the memories and life of an era. Therefore, industrial heritage always has vitality even in modern life,” said architect Dinh Thi Hai Yen.

Architect Vuong Hai Long, Dean of the Faculty of Architecture at Hanoi Architectural University, stated that Hanoi’s industrial heritage sites cover a large land area. Rather than demolishing these buildings, redeveloping them can not only bring significant economic value but also preserve their historical significance.

Many countries have successfully transformed old industrial parks into entertainment complexes, creating spaces for community interaction and unlocking new values for obsolete buildings. In order to utilize the remaining value of dilapidated buildings effectively, comprehensive assessments and suitable solutions are crucial.

The installation space of the Tatoo & Bamboo Workshop artists, Hanoi Creative Design Festival 2023.

Combining industrial heritage and tourism

Hanoi is home to the country’s most important industrial heritage, and experts believe that removing these heritage sites would disrupt the city’s coherence. While not all buildings need to be preserved, it is important to identify those that connect with Hanoi’s memories and preserve, renovate, or rebuild them accordingly.

Architect Nguyen Hong Quang, who contributed to the design of spaces for the Hanoi Creative Design Festival 2023, emphasized the historical value of industrial heritage. Demolishing these buildings and replacing them with new ones would undermine their temporal and historical significance. Industrial heritage buildings deserve to be revived through art events, which can create significant attractions for tourists, in addition to the city’s scenic spots and historical relics.

Architect Vuong Hai Long stated that while reusing, promoting, and preserving industrial heritage is not a new issue in many countries, these values have not been fully tapped in Vietnam, particularly in Hanoi.

The Ben Cho or Waiting Pavilion at the Hanoi Creative Design Festival 2023

 “Therefore, a planning roadmap is needed to change the functions of old buildings and factories, meeting the demands of modernity while preserving the traces and memories of their history and culture,” he stated.

According to Vu Thu Ha, Deputy Chairwoman of the Hanoi People’s Committee, Hanoi has undertaken numerous activities in recent years to fulfill its commitment to building a creative city. The city has prioritized the preservation, restoration, and promotion of the value of relics, as well as invested in projects that highlight the capital’s unique landscapes and spaces. Additionally, efforts will be made to develop cultural tourism, new rural areas, and civilized urban areas.

A visitor to the light and water installation inside the Hang Dau Water Tower. Photo: Huong Giang

Hanoi’s cultural tourism brand is built upon its unique cultural values, with a focus on heritage, culinary traditions, and cultural values. This has resulted in the creation of a system of distinctive and high-quality destinations and products. To determine which industrial facilities should be partially or fully preserved, comprehensive assessments should be conducted and the heritage values of these facilities should be publicized through interdisciplinary seminars, soliciting feedback from experts in culture, architecture, and history. This process will establish a more scientific and systematic set of evaluation criteria.

 The Hanoi Creative Design Festival 2023 is currently taking place at Gia Lam Train Factory and other venues in Hanoi until November 26, with the theme “Flow”.

The annual festival features 60 cultural activities at four architectural landmarks in Hanoi. These activities include 16 exhibitions, 17 workshops and lectures, nine art shows, community events, art fairs, and children’s playgrounds.

The festival has over 200 organizers, including Vietnamese and international designers and artists such as Hanoi Indie Troupe, Van Thien Y Design, and Heritage Space.

For the first time, both locals and visitors to Hanoi have the opportunity to see the city’s century-old architectural works, including the Hang Dau Water Tower, Van Xuan Flower Garden, and Gia Lam Train Factory.

These French colonial buildings have been transformed by architects and artists into unique art exhibition venues, marking a new stage in the transformation of Hanoi’s industrial heritage into creative spaces.

In a short period of time, the workshops of the Gia Lam Train Factory have been turned into 16 art exhibitions and demonstrations. Some of these include “Water Palace” by artist Trinh Minh Tien, “The Call” by artist Thu Tran, a group exhibition titled “Peripheral Movement” featuring Vietnamese and international artists, and graffiti art demonstrations, among others.

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