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Interview With the Author of the 'Ha Noi: CAPITAL City' Photo Book - Part 2

Following the successful release of their photo book which chronicled urban development in Ho Chi Minh City last year, Michael Waibel and Henning Hilbert are back with a similar endeavor, this time focusing on the Vietnamese capital – “Hà Nội: CAPITAL City.” At the same time, the duo has released an updated edition of "TP. Hồ Chí Minh: MEGA City" in a more portable format. We caught up with Mr. Waibel to learn more about both publications and urban development in Vietnam.

You can find Part 1 of the interview here.

1) Do you think it’s fair to say that Hanoi prioritizes historical preservation more than Ho Chi Minh City? If so, why do you think this is?

Due the larger stock of historic monuments in Hanoi there is more to preserve than in Ho Chi Minh City. However, I am not fully convinced of your thesis. In Hanoi, I do observe some efforts to preserve religious or cultural buildings, but this is much less the case for residential buildings.

For example, in the southern part of Hanoi’s French colonial quarter, there are dozens of exceptionally beautiful Art Deco-style villas built in the 1920s and 1930s by the first generation of Vietnamese architects. It is a pity that more and more of these villas are being demolished to make room for commercial purposes.

Even worse than the degradation of architectural heritage due to development is continuous neglect by homeowners as there is a general lack of know-how in terms of maintenance and proper renovation. As a result, many buildings have become so dilapidated that demolition seems to be the only possible conclusion.

Policy makers seem to be unaware that residential buildings are part of an architectural heritage too, besides religious monuments or cultural icons such as the Municipal Theatre.

In general, the challenge for Hanoi is to build on its uniqueness under global competition, instead of just falling back on it.

In regards to Ho Chi Minh City, there is still an amazing heritage of French colonial residential and public buildings in the city center, though the stock is diminishing rapidly. I really appreciate the efforts of Saigoneer and particularly of Tim Doling to raise awareness about the importance of this urban heritage.

The people I know in HCMC’s Department of Planning and Architecture have good intentions, but they get a lot of pressure from high-ranking politicians and large development companies. Often, they simply don’t have the power to resist. 


2) Was the reception of Hanoi Capital City different from that of Hồ Chí Minh MEGA City?

In general, the reception to the "Hà Nội: CAPITAL City" publication was as positive as that of the "Hồ Chí Minh MEGA City" photo book. People have praised the holistic approach that shows the city from a variety of perspectives – from bird’s eye views of its neighborhoods to portraits of its inhabitants within their private living environment.

In addition, we have been able to include pictures made by drone, or more precisely a quadrocopter, for the first time. Philippe Lê, an architect currently based in Abu Dhabi, contributed these spectacular, never before seen images of Hanoi’s cityscape, including the Long Bien Bridge, West Lake and the area around Truc Bach Lake.

Another component that drew good reviews was the “Change over Time” chapter that features then and now pictures dating back from my first trip to Vietnam in 1996. All in all, I would say the aesthetic and technical quality of the photos in the new book is more consistent than that of the first. This is made possible both by the use of better equipment and experience gained from putting together the "Hồ Chí Minh MEGA City" photo book.

3) Are there plans in the works for a book about Da Nang, or looking a bit farther afield, Phnom Penh?

Yes, there will definitely be a third book of this series covering the recent urban development of Da Nang. AUDI Vietnam, the diamond sponsor of the first two editions, has already firmly declared its support to the new book project.

The title will be either "Đà Nẵng COASTAL City" or "Đà Nẵng LIVABLE City" and will be published in early 2016. It will feature not only the urban area, but also the surroundings of this emerging modern metropolis which includes Hội An, the Marble Mountains and Huế City.

I am still looking for other company sponsors to support this effort that would receive a certain number of customized copies as corporate gifts in exchange.

Indeed, there are also plans to cover Phnom Penh, which has some highly interesting vernacular architecture (New Khmer Architecture) from the 1950s and 1960s, for example. But there is no Goethe Institute based there and I will need to acquire further funds for this endeavor. Any hints in regard to this are highly welcome.


4. Where can people buy these books?

In Ho Chi Minh City, the books are available at all Artbook stores, at the War Remnants Museum and also at the international airport terminal. In Hanoi, the books are available at Infostone bookshop, at the larger shops of Hanoi Book Company, at Bookworm, at Golden Bookshop and the bookshop of Ho Chi Minh Museum.


Bibliographical Information:

Waibel, M. (ed.) (2015) Hà Nội: Capital City. Sách ảnh / Fotobuch / Photo Book. 1st edition. Fine Art Publishing House, Hanoi, Vietnam, 308 p. ISBN 978-604-78-1965-2. Sales price: 900,000 VND 

Waibel, M. & H. Hilbert (eds.) (2015) TP. Hồ Chí Minh: MEGA City. Sách ảnh / Photo Book. 2nd updated edition. Book series PAZIFIK FORUM of the Association of Pacific Studies; Volume 15. Fine Art Publishing House, Hanoi / Vietnam, 208 pages.

ISBN: 978-604-78-2038-2. Sales price: 450,000 VND

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