French architecture in Hanoi through times (Part 1)

Aside from the taste of the food and quality of service, La Badiane’s colonial architecture is another factor that makes the restaurant special and different in the eyes of customers. The elegant, sophisticated French setting brings customers – Vietnamese customers in general and Hanoi customers in specific – unforgettable feelings. So what is it about French architecture that’s so appealing to the Vietnamese? What are the traces of French architecture in Hanoi through times? Let’s find out.

French architecture in Hanoi through times 1

La Badiane looks like a French villa at first sight

Contributions in architecture

since 1803, when King Gia Long rebuilt Hanoi citadel following the Vauban style under the direction of four French engineers. However, not until the establishment of concession area along the Red River in 1875 did French architecture actually create a significant imprint in Hanoi. Nearly a century passed by, from the second half of the nineteenth century to the first half of the twentieth century, French colonial architecture with an abundance of styles and designs has made a precious architectural heritage for Hanoi.

The introduction of French architecture in Hanoi has created a transformation in traditional scale, art, structural engineering and building materials. For the construction stuff, the main raw materials such as bamboo, leaves, wood, brick, and tile were replaced by cement, steel, and iron. Since then, the whole architecture of Hanoi has been influenced by this trend. Oriental housing construction seemed to be inferior and people no longer built houses with purely Vietnamese style. The typical Vietnam garden-house has been disappearing from Hanoi and instead, block houses have been mushrooming.

French architecture in Hanoi through times 2

Vietnam’s traditional garden-house model

Even when the French retreated from Vietnam, French architecture still keeps its strong impact on Hanoi. Until now, Hanoians are constructing their city accordingly to the remnants of Hanoi’s French Colonial past. The old French buildings, which were supposed to belong to one regime, are now carefully conserved and used by Vietnamese, showing the harmony in combination between indigenous and exotic cultural characteristics and keeping the essential roles in all aspects of Hanoians’ lives.

Some schools remain as places for education such as Chu Van An, Tran Phu or Trung Vuong school, some become working offices for state agencies, the villas turn into the living place of senior officials and ambassadors. The others, stay still from their births, and now turn out to be the symbols of the city such as the Opera House, Metropole Hotel, Saint Joseph Cathedral, etc.

French architecture in Hanoi through times 3

Chu Van An High School – then and now

French architecture in Hanoi through times 4

Presidential Palace – then and now

French architecture in Hanoi through times 5

Métropole Hotel – then and now

(With reference information from Vietnam Online. See part 2 here.)