Another Modernism? Form, Content and Meanings of the New Housing Architecture of Hanoi
Abstract: The study deals with the issue of how to understand and assess modern architecture in a non-Western context. Is there a non-Western modern architecture in its own right and with meanings connected to the local context or is it mere copy of Western modern architecture? At the primary level the study discusses the meanings and directions of contemporary architecture in a modernising society such as Vietnam, using a number of new private houses of Hanoi as case studies. At a more theoretical level it treats the issue of modern architecture outside the Western context and its relation to modern Western architecture. The study is based on two kinds of empirical sources: the architecture of selected new private houses of Hanoi, and the Vietnamese professional discourse on modern architecture. The views of the house owners and architects are highlighted. The owners' views on the new houses were obtained in a field study in which a number of new middle class private houses built during the 1990s were visited and in-depth interviews carried out with the owners. The professional discourse is derived from written texts in major Vietnamese architectural journals and publications. The study finds that although the new houses use 'modern' or foreign inspired architectural elements, there are many aspects of the spatial arrangement and use of space that are based on traditional practices and beliefs. There are several meanings to the 'modern' look of the houses that are context specific. It is part of the owners' strategies for definition of identity and status, progress and success. It embodies the spirit of "catching up" of the house owners, emerging middle class Vietnamese who aspire to a modern future of well being and progress, and leaving behind the past of poverty and difficulty. The designs of the new houses of Hanoi express the modernisation spirit in Vietnam, in which aspirations for modern progress and success are combined with traditional beliefs in the national and social order. They express a Vietnamese middle class vision of future life in which modern objects are the desired material reality, while communication with ancestors provides the continuity and stability to social and spiritual life. The designs of the new houses can be seen as examples of a symbiosis in which the modern form and the traditional content coexist in a single whole. They can also be seen as illustrations of another modernism in which the traditional is used to complement, and not to contradict the modern, a modernism that is based on the symbiosis of modern form and traditional content. By highlighting the owners' view on their houses and the views of Vietnamese architects on contemporary architecture for Vietnam, the study wishes to provide a local perspective to a global, often Western dominated, discourse on modern architecture and modernism. One of the main arguments that the study wishes to put forward is that modern architecture in Vietname or elsewhere needs to be studied on its own terms.
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