Residents of Hue consider the colonial villas built by the French as part of their legacy thanks to the architectural value and harmony between them and the environment along the Huong (Perfume) River in the city.
While local people have failed to prevent many from recent demolition they hope that existing villas can be preserved under a project called ‘A Street of Museums’. French colonial villas remain in the minds of the middle-aged and older generations in Hue as the most beautiful of architectural structures and ideal places in which to take shelter.
Some 20 years ago, the people of Hue could see these villas everywhere, but local government agencies then took them over as offices and knocked them down as soon as they were able. Local residents in the former imperial capital regret the collapsed villas still seen, which nonetheless serve as prominent landmarks, especially along the beautiful street of Le Loi running along the famed Huong River.
Researcher Nguyen Huu Thong has said that the replacement of these old villas by new buildings cause a great deal of regret among those who care deeply about Hue but have no real power.
Hue has lost many of its impressive, magnificent villas due to a headlong rush towards change and unthinking management, and this will impact eventually on the younger generations in the city, he said. Other researchers are disappointed with local policy makers but never raise the problem publicly due to a fear of being accused of opposing the local government. Many villas along Le Loi, including those that once served as the city hall and the grand general museum, have been knocked down, causing one of the most beautiful streets in the city to lose its lustre.
In Hoang Hoa Tham, which runs perpendicular to Le Loi, only three of about 20 old villas are still standing, dwarfed by tall, newly-built office blocks. Youngsters in Hue have expressed their love for the old villas with photographs, hoping they may help retain the memory if, or more likely when, these colonial buildings are demolished. These existing villas may have another fate in store, however, thanks to the project initiated by the Hue Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, which has proposed setting up ‘A Street of Museums’.
Under the project, Le Loi will have several cultural exhibition centres and museums to serve demand for cultural exhibitions and research. Displays of cultural work will find a home in the colonial villas on the street, which means the old buildings will be preserved from potential demolition. The department will rearrange the existing Museum of Culture and give more Champa antiques collected from around the province to create the Hue Museum of Fine Arts. The museum is to shelter within two unique French colonial villas, which sit beside the city’s iconic Truong Tien Bridge and have been appraised as the most beautiful villas preserved in the city.
Remaining near the museum will be the Le Ba Dang Art Museum and the Lieu Quan Buddhist Centre. The Le Ba Dang Art Museum is home to a number of outstanding works of the late artist Le Ba Dang, who lived and worked in France most of his life.
Dang’s museum resides in another remarkable white-coloured colonial villa on the street. Fortunately, this building is in a very good condition and its architectural patterns are well preserved.
Under the project, the department will ambitiously take over another colonial villa located opposite the popular Saigon Morin Hotel, to display sculptural works from late renowned artist Diem Phung Thi.
The Saigon Morin is also a landmark in the city thanks to its location and history. Despite a major upgrade several years ago, it continues to wear its colonial outfit and stands uniquely as a breath of colonial ambience.
Hopes are high in the context of local residents regretting the fate of a number of villas demolished already but there can be no guarantee about the ‘museum street’ project, as the local government always takes a long time to complete paperwork. Hue residents must continue to pray for a change in mindset among local policy makers about preserving the city’s landmark buildings.