Hanoi is expected to issue preservation regulations for colonial-era villas by year-end while the city's old public buildings undergo assessment, a top planning official has said.
"We have set a goal to return the original pre-1954 look to the whole French quarter in the near future," said Planning and Architecture Department deputy director Duong Duc Tuan.
The so-called ‘French quarter', which covers an area of about 400ha in the districts of Hoan Kiem, Ba Dinh, Dong Da and Hai Ba Trung, was once known as a ‘garden city'.
Tuan said the department has completed a comprehensive report of more than 1,500 French villas in the area and preservation regulations are expected to be issued by Hanoi People's Committee.
According to the report, some 230 villas, mostly in Ba Dinh district, were classified as ‘particularly valuable'. They are at least 500sq.m in size, set in a good location and still maintain their original look and architectural style.
"They need to be strictly preserved," said Tuan.
The department has also suggested restoring some 430 others back to their original style as they are "valuable villas in a good location but partly damaged or distorted."
Assessment team member Tran Quoc Bao, a lecturer at the Construction University's Architecture and Planning Department and a member of the Hanoi Architecture Research Group, said the assessment was based on the buildings' historical and cultural values, architecture, landscape, originality and function.
"This is the first French architecture preservation project that the city has ever run," said Tuan.
He admitted that weak management and underestimating architectural buildings from the French colonial period has led to widespread destruction and unplanned repairs of valuable houses in the city.
Most destruction occurred after the Doi moi (Renewal) process began in 1986 when the city needed land for its increasing population and economic development.
"It was painful to see most beautiful private villas be replaced with new ugly structures or being distorted due to expansion," said Bao.
The city has also started efforts to preserving French-style public buildings. The new project is underway to assess the current condition of old public buildings and their surrounding areas south of Hoan Kiem Lake and in Ba Dinh district, according to Tuan.
"We hope to soon expand the efforts to the remaining part of the French quarter," he said, adding "the French left a huge architectural heritage in Hanoi."
He expected the surrounds would be officially recognised as an area of cultural heritage.
According to Bao, most of the colonial-era villas and public structures in Hanoi were built in the styles of French vernacular architecture, neo-classic, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Indochinese architecture.
The capital was one of Asia's most modern cities during the roaring 1920s and 1930s as described by French Professor Christian Pedelahore at Ecole Nationale Superieure D'Architecture de Paris La Villette.
The founder of the Vietnamese Cities research team, with urban planing experience gained in Europe, Asia and Latin America, said that there were around 80 French architects and engineers working in Hanoi at the time.
Among those who helped develop old Hanoi into a beautiful "garden city" was Ernest Herbrad, architect, archaeologist and urban planner renowned for his redevelopment of the centre of Thessaloniki in Greece after the Great Fire of 1917.
Herbrad co-authored the Hanoi urban plan of 1924 and fathered a number of famous buildings, including the Hanoi University of Natural Sciences on Le Thanh Tong Street and the Vietnam History Museum on Pham Ngu Lao Street.