A museum in the street of Dalat

Dec 25th 2016.

Not only is Dalat endowed with a mild climate, stunning pine forests, lakes, waterfalls, thousand species of flowers blooming all lhe year round: it also has a fund of architectural and unique palaces and houses which cannot be found anywhere in Vietnam.

A museum in the street

This uniqueness has been discussed by lots of experts, researchers, domestic and foreign architects for a long time, but it was again addressed by a senior conservation expert from France in a study of Dalat recently.

That was in 2004, when Jean-Manuel Paol the heritage architect, graduating from Chaillotsenior Center- under the Ministry of Culture of France representing the Archetype Design & Construction Company came to Dalat in a cooperation agreement with the city in the tasks to set out solutions to preserve the architectural heritage works here.

architecture of Dalat Teachers' Training College

architecture of Dalat Teachers’ Training College

A report was then submitted to Dalat authorities by Jean-Manuel Paoli as a result of a long working session here. The objective of this report is to highlight the architectural heritage and urban area inherited from the presence of the French in this city putting forward proposals to preserve this architectural fund while the city continues to grow.

Surprisingly for a heritage architect as Pao he has never realized why such a small, peaceful mountain town has got its massive heritage of urban architecture. This is a rare city having its birth date planned from the start built under an order in a uniform layered architecture style with substantial intentions how can one now find in Vietnam and in Southeast Asia such a city like that?

What is Dalat’s architectural style? According to Paoli, that is the “local trend” a movement that emerged from the second half of the 19th century in Europe, and was first introduced into France. The notable feature of this trend is the expression of identity through evoking the roots. This trend strongly developed in coastal resort areas and in mountainous areas, combined with artificia architectural landscape, and the terrain on site lt does not apply the immutable stereotypes, not the replica of traditional European architecture but it is combined with the innovative exploration in that period to create a new architectural style, in line with the environmental surroundings.

The climax of this architectural style in France is the reconstruction period after World War(1914-1918), especially thriving in later period, from 1920-1930. This movement then declined in France but was promptly introduced to Vietnam and blossomed in Dalat.

According to Paoli’s research, almost 1,500 of the French villas built in Dalat from the early years until 1945 were built in the local style or French ethnic tendencies”. Tourists coming here can see the presence of most of the specific styles featuring French houses in this city, from the resort-style houses along the Basque coast, the land of Normandy, Cote d’Azur region or the type of Flander houses, Brittany, Provence, Alsace That is, when walking in Dalat, architecture lovers are under the impression that they are going through a lot of French regions. Here one can see miniature models of the architectural works in Paris, such as the Cathedral, the prestigious buildings built of stone in Nordic style, for instance, the Geographic Devision(now the Mapping Department) or a place worth visiting with a combination of sophistication and aesthetics in architecture, which is the Grand Lycée, now known as Dalat Teachers’ Training College.

Of course, one can also see the modern architectural styles built in Dalat, typically the flat-shaped, concrete roofs scattered throughout the city, such as Palace 2 (Governor’s Palace), Palace 3 (Bao Dai Palace), Pasteur Institute some flat roofed villas built during this period on Tran Hung Dao street have so far been pretty well preserved.

But the French architects in Dalat at that time had not only taken the prototype model of houses of different regions of their motherland to Dalat but also acquired the style of Vietnamese houses to adorn construction works, especially the architectural simulation of the communal roofs majestically soaring into the sky of the Highlands ethnic minorities to apply to many projects, accompanied by the characteristic patterns, using wood for exterior decoration. It is not hard for tourists to find this type of construction works in Dalat, especially religious works, typically, Cam Ly Church…

a villa in Tran Hung Dao street

a villa in Tran Hung Dao street

As background for this architectural heritage is a city with a temperate climate in the heart of the tropical country, with scenic dams, waterfalls, surrounded by pine forests, rich temperate fruits and vegetables, with thousands of species of flowers blooming throughout the year, with cultural diversity of the oldest indigenous peoples. Surrounding Dalat is the vasteness with Bidoup Nui Ba National Park, with extremely unique ecological system, a little bit further is Cat Tien National Park. All have created a unique none to second resort in Vietnam.

Only in terms of architecture alone, its quality and diversity is sufficient to turn this place into a tourist city full of uniqueness, an architectural museum existing on the streets. The city, under architect Jean Manuel Paoli’s view point, if France is unique, is more unique in Asian context. He wondered, looking across Asia, is there any unique city like that one?

Conservation within the development

Dalat though influenced by the French remains an urban city of Vietnam. After the French left, the French architecture continued to apply for a long time and many later works still inherit the continuity of this heritage.

a villa in Quang Trung street

a villa in Quang Trung street

Being a unique urban city in Vietnam, which image of Dalat will stay in the memories of tourists when they come here? It will be a bustling urban tourist resort city with over 250 thousand people, which is facing the challenge how to retain the old features, the historical evidence while maintaining the pace of development of its own identity. We must say this only city in the forest of Vietnam has so many advantages that other urban tourist cities in Vietnam do not have, the matter is whether Dalat can make full use of these advantages.

In addition to preserving the remaining heritage, according to architect Manuel Jean Paoli, Dalat also needs to handle the new craze of building new villas. These are the modern villas sprouting rapidly today. The fact that individuals who want to own a mansion is a normal thing, but is it noteworthy how it is built?

According to Paoli, many new villas sprouting faster are copies of the European architectural style tainted with nostalgia, random, clumsiness, gaudy, off key decor, subject to the impetuous impulse of the owner. Paoli thinks that architecture does not simply mean fitting each piece together, not a theatrical scenery, nor is it a building to be out dated after just several years of use. The problem is not to ban or impose a certain architectural style on houses under construction, but the necessary legal provisions to prevent acts of unpermitted construction together with a team of consulting architects, with highly professional advice to keep Dalat unique.

According to Le Quang Trung, director of Lam Dong Construction Department, total numbers of existing state owned villas in Dalat are 142, classified into 3 groups based on historical and cultural architectural value to have conservation olan in which works of legacy must be strictly protected. For private villas, according to Trung, state management is still implemented through construction permits and planning control. When these villas are upgraded, repaired or restored, they are to ensure compliance with requirements stipulated by the government Together, the local government encourages people to build villas, detached houses surreounded by gardens in suburban areas under general regulations density, only central areas are permitted to develop buildings.

By Viet Trong

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