His ambition to create a vast project to honour the nation and symbolise the uniqueness of Vietnamese culture has led Tran Van Liem, a French artist of Vietnamese origin, to spend 20 years developing his plans for Van Lang City.
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After living abroad for more than 30 years, the artist returned to Viet Nam last year to give a lecture on the project. He came back last month to present the plan to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Viet Nam Association of Architects.
The basis of Van Lang City s design is rooted in oriental philosophy and opinions found in the Chinese I Ching (Book of Changes).
Arranged in a circle, the 1,800m in diameter area would house a city capable of accommodating about 1 million residents. Eight spoke-like boulevards would lead inwards from the rim of the circle to a central plaza.
The boulevards would be named after trees, such as Evergreen, Willow, Flamboyant and Pine. Actual specimens of the trees would be grown on their respective boulevards. Liem selected these trees based on philosophic and geographic reasons.
Stone steles engraved with quotes by great philosophers would also decorate the boulevards.
Two highlighted constructions include the round-shaped Thien Tu Tower for worshipping the nation s legendary ancestors Lac Long Quan and the square-shaped Hoang Tu Tower for worshipping Au Co. According to legend, the couple are the ancestors of the Vietnamese people. Liem designed the two 100m towers to symbolise the sky and the land; ancient Vietnamese people believed the sky was round and the land was square.
Not only for worship, the towers would also house convention centres large enough to hold 5,000 people, department stores, entertainment areas and commercial zones.
Each year pilgrims would climb 365 steps, representing the days of the year, to reach the top of the towers. Ninety bronze drums would line the stairway to the summit.
At night, the city s towers and temples would be lit up with rainbow coloured lights, making them shiny in the darkness.
"These constructions would delight visitors to Ha Noi even when they are still in an aeroplane," Liem says.
Based on tradition, Van Lang City would still have really modern touches in terms of interior design, including elements such as glass elevators without cables.
The vision calls for the city to be surrounded by a 50m-wide system of canals, large enough for 300 floating hotels.
A central square would have a stage equipped with modern sound and light systems. Art performances would be held with the beats of bronze drums in the background, and large screens arranged along the boulevards would ensure that all visitors could enjoy the performances from afar.
In terms of implementation, Liem is confident and optimistic.
"When the project is approved by the Government, the city will attract investors," he says.
"Viet Nam is in the development and integration process, so Ha Noi should develop a large construction as a symbol. Because of the scale and meaning behind the plan, Van Lang City would meet the demand."
He hopes it would be an ideal spot for Ha Noi to host international conferences, festivals and congresses.
Liem envisions that hotels and apartment buildings near the city would rent for high prices.
Architect Doan Duc Thanh agrees with Liem s idea that Viet Nam should have a large-scale construction project as its symbol. He believes that one Pillar Pagoda and Tortoise Tower in Ha Noi are very well-known but still small and don t clearly and comprehensively show off Viet Nam s image.
"Liem s plan has many specific Vietnamese characteristics relating to the legends of Lac Long Quan and Au Co. The plan may become a reality," Thanh says.
Architect Ngo Doan Duc, director of Architecture Institute, agrees, "I listened to Liem s presentation and can clearly see his determination."
"Liem prepared meticulously with a lot of confidence," Duc says.
Both Thanh and Duc appreciate Liem s love and heart for the homeland.
However, domestic architects unanimously agree that many further studies are needed for the plan to become a reality.
"First, I don t think the plan is close to real life because a city should stick to its citizens and their activities," Thanh says.
Duc doesn t agree with some aspects of the plan. He sees some similarities with Japan and China in the decorative and architectural aspects, and the stairs to the top of two main towers don t actually honour Lac Long Quan and Au Co. Vietnamese people believe that gods should be worshipped at the highest point in a building.
Another important factor is that there has been no mention of where the city would be located.
The architects suggest that Liem should consult specialists in sculpture, history and architecture to make the city more perfect.
Liem has held solo exhibitions in France and won first prize at France s St Germain des Pres painting contest in 1979. He also took home a prize from the Goya Art Association in 1988.
He is still looking for about 1 million euro (US$1.5 million) to finish the plan. He intends to open an exhibition about Van Lang City in celebration of Ha Noi s 1,000th anniversary in October next year.
With a desire to build a Vietnamese wonder, Liem pledges to spend the rest of his life bringing his drawings into reality. VNS
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