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Old July 12th, 2009, 12:21 AM
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Question 36 Streets Old Quarter - "Pho Co Ha Noi"

A Study on the formation process of the street-block and re-constitution of streetscape of Pho Co Ha Noi

By Shoichi OTA


In 36 Streets Old Quarter or Pho Co Ha Noi, Hang Bac and Hang Buom, on which we are working, proud of their long history and have distinctive characters of traditional culture. When considering architectural conservation, it is indispensable to present authenticity of the designated area. This study will examine it based on these tree points: structure of shophouse, formation of city block, and architectural figure in the streetscape.

Structure of Shophouse

Regarding the structure of shophouse, the house of 30 Phat Loc, which we have studied in last year, is one of the best to preserve the original form. Following this example, wooden frame structure is also observed in Hang Buom at several houses. This structure is mainly consisted with steep beams. The oldest pattern is found at 47 Hang Bac, having low-rise upper floor, down-curved ridge beam, or partition wall on its both ends of roofs. On Hang Buom, No.50 House is categorized in this type, having narrow width and over-topped metal roof on the original tiled roof to prevent from rain leaking.

Next example is to mount a higher upper floor, even using the similar wooden structure. This type sometimes hires Western motives on its façade as it enlarged by higher roof. Between the two we can find a difference in proportion, which should be regarded to be based on respective usage and aesthetic. The latter case is typically found at No.57 House of Hang Buom.

On the other hand, it has more modernized one with reinforced concrete structure built in the colonial period, estimated to be built in 1940s or 50s, accommodating spacious void and Art Deco style handrails. This house of No.60 Hang Buom shows modernity of the time. It is another task to define and distinguish this sort of structure which is hardly to be distinguished from recent usual buildings if not carefully watched.

Social Organizations

Besides shophouses, some larger institutions are also located in the street, such as Bach Ma temple, Hoi Quan Quang Dong Chinese congregational hall, Cantonese school, and Quan Cong Mieu temple. All of them except Bach Ma Temple were once belonged to Chinese community nestled in this neighborhood, show the history of Hang Buom to be flourished as China Town in Hanoi. Even Bach Ma temple was then worshipped by the Chinese. This renowned land mark was restored last year and also used as office of Phuong. Each stone plate is also well preserved. The restoration work of Quan Cong Mieu is now undergoing.

Old Cantonese congregational hall has two parts; the frontage designated to assemblage hall with theater stage, and the rear accommodates worship place. The site is constituted three row of buildings in width, center and besides. Shophouses attached on both side are also designed at the same time. Old Cantonese school faced across the street is supposed to be developed in the same manner. Finally the finding is that this neighboring site is once a unified complex to serve the Cantonese community. Presently these structures are re-used for people’s daily lives such as the Cantonese congregational hall is designated to kindergarten, and the Cantonese school is used as the journalist club. Each of them has good example of traditional structure and still characterizes the streetscape.

Formation of City Block

Our study then reveals the relation between the formation process of city block and specific figure of shophouses. Theoretically, the shophouse belonging to old street has longer depth and abundant backyard, while relatively new street has shorter ones and newer structure. This general idea is to be examined in the study. On Hang Buom street the lots close to the street side has narrow rectangular shape and in the enough deeper part of the lots to be free from its fetter is in irregular shape. No.53 Hang Buom house has a villa structure attached to the back of the shophouse of the frontage part. This villa occupies the backyard of the next door lots. No.71 Hang Buom also has villa on its back and preserves small path through to Hang Giay street.

These cases show phased steps to form city block, and are applied to estimate its chronological process. In the studied area, Hang Buom street once had regular depth of its shophouses in its early stage of development, which might result from two reasons: a pond located on the back of shophouse row, and village boundary run there. This pond was filled up to 1910s and French authority rearranged administrative organizations, then in both natural and social conditions no restriction existed to stop extension of shophouse. Consequently rich families could occupy the back yard.

Newly-laid street was affected to the form of city block. On these streets in the Colonial period, only houses of shallow depth are built. In general, the longer history the street has, the deeper its shophouse ends, which could be applied to measure street’s history in relative comparison of neighboring ones. In the studied area, Luong Ngoc Quyen street is relatively new street to connect and to widen existing paths.

On Hang Giay street which is the prolongation of the northern part across Hang Buom street to Luong Ngoc Quyen, unique type of housing was generated such as Apartment-style housing to be inserted in the narrow lots alongside the street. The building itself is designed in late Art Deco style, which was novel trend at that time.

Architectural figure and Streetscape -based on measuring work and old photograph

When considering architectural figure in the streetscape, measuring works or old photographs are referred to discriminate original parts from lately attached modifications. Comparing the buildings in the photographs and existing ones carefully, we can distinguish original form of them. These old photos also exhibits relating materials such as goods, commodities, clothes, or customs. Display of selling goods on the shops is very much interesting. The old photos provides us much information on old Hanoi so that we should promote collecting them to increase their stock as database.


Using the sources above mentioned, we will consider authenticity of streetscape of Hanoi. Now some shophouse-style commercial buildings are constructed and traditional figure can gain popularity in recent years. They appeals to visitors by its old-fashioned atmosphere, however, they can easily loose the real figure of Hanoi and equips some similar thing of anywhere else. Estimating original figure as much as possible, restoration and reconstitution of façade and streetscape will be possible to certain extent. It is all the more required to observe the real figure of Hanoi in the history.
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