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Demolition of Saigon Tax Center Officially Starts Today

As you’re reading this, Saigon’s iconic Tax Center is meeting its ultimate demise, making room for a new, 40-story skyscraper.

According to Tuoi Tre, workers recently finished dismantling architectural features of the old building which will be reinstalled during construction of the new building. Doan Hai Minh, deputy director of the Saigon Commercial Corporation (Satra), the project’s main investor, shared with the news source the list of the structures which will return.

On the outside, the “Thuong Xa Tax” signage, the canopy along the adjacent pavement and the façade at the Le Loi-Nguyen Hue corner will remain mostly untouched. Inside, the new building will reincorporate the main hall, along with its iconic design elements, including the intricate mosaic floors, balustrades, handrails and banisters in the shape of laurel flowers, as well as the Gaulois (Gallic Rooster) cockerels found on the main staircase and in the lobby lounge.

Minh also revealed that, from June to September this year, the process of taking apart important architectural structures, especially the decorative Moroccan mosaic, took place in secret to avoid public scrutiny.

The team behind this dismantling hails from the archaeology department of the Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities. They came up with the idea of digging beneath the mosaic surface to minimize damage while removing the precious tiles. However, Minh also explained that any tiles which were destroyed during the process will be replaced with locally made tiles, as it’s a tall order to find mosaics similar to the originals.

The Tax Center's Moroccan mosaic staircase. Photo via Alexandre Garel.

Last December, historians and conservationists raised concerns regarding the complex and time-consuming process of preserving the Tax Center's Moroccan mosaic, a job which requires extensive specialized training.

“Mosaics in [Vietnam] are completely different from Moroccan zellij [mosaics], and in our view there are no suitably qualified people here to do the job. It's highly specialized work,” historian Tim Doling told Saigoneer late last year. “That's nothing to be ashamed of, as every country has its areas of specialism. But we impressed upon Satra how crucial it is in this case to use overseas conservation experts, ideally with mosaic experience, and sent them a long list of possible candidates in Australia, USA and [the] UK. The French Consul General would also be willing to advise on suitable experts in France.”

Beyond the mosaic itself, Doling also points out that the new façade design, which is meant to include neo-classical flourishes, remains a mystery.

“All we have been shown so far is an artists' sketch, and since detailed drawings have not been released to the public, no one has a clue what they plan to do,” he tells Saigoneer via email.

Doling adds: “Hopefully they will concentrate more on the lines of the original façade, which have a more timeless quality.”

Zing reports that the Tax Center demolition will take place over 90 days before construction of the new commercial complex begins. The new building will be a 40-story multipurpose venue, including office spaces, commercial zones, a conference center, a hotel and even a helipad. Its six basement floors will connect to the forthcoming Ben Thanh-Suoi Tien metro line.

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