Vietnam heritage, Long Bien Bridge, Bridging the gap

Published: 16th November 2011
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The famous 113 year-old Long Bien. Bridge in Hanoi capital could be transformed into the world's longest contemporary art museum and cultural events centre according to a recently tabled proposal. Dieu Linh finds out more

A major engineering feat at the time, the 1.7km Long Bien Bridge was started in 1898 across a river which shifted over sand, gravel and stone by Dayde and PiIle Company and inaugurated in 1903. At that time it was the longest bridge in Indochina and one of the four longest bridges in the world. Originally, the bridge was called Doumer Bridge in honour of the Governor General of Indochina, Paul Doumer. With 19 steel spans, the bridge is a fine example of the engineering concepts, metal work and architecture also featured in the Eiffel Tower. In fact, many people accredit the bridge's design to Gustave Eiffel. The Vietnamese architect and historian Dang Thai Hoang claimed the bridge was "built to an Eiffel blueprint."

Today it stands as a symbol of Vietnam's courageous fight for independence. It's still an eye-catching sight to behold, but on closer inspection, the bridge is more evidently a patched up warrior. So what does the future hold for this old icon? On July 15, a seminar on the rehabilitation of Long Bien bridge was organised by Vietnam Urban Planning Association. One speaker, Nguyen Nga, an architect and urban planner from Paris, proposed that the bridge could become a contemporary museum as part of an ambitious plan to revamp the capital city. As there will be a new Long Bien bridge built in the future to serve national railway links, the originaI bridge has an opportunity to be reinvented as the world's longest contemporary art museum.

It's a most tempting proposition — imagine the views of the red river? From a distance the bridge would also be a beautiful, aesthetic vision in downtown Hanoi. The structure would be dressed in large panels of translucent glass. An array of both open and closed spaces would permit permanent and transitory projects of various kinds. A large exhibition hall could display restored locomotives and wagons from the earliest days of the bridge, some of which could be transformed into dining cars and cafés.

There are logistical challenges — the bridge must be raised three metres to permit the navigation of large vessels and be enlarged to permit long term development and future evolutions. As part of the same plan there will also be an Art Park, situated on the island called Bai Giua, in the middle of the Red River, which will "recall our ancestral past and connect it with our present and future, adding even more attractions of this area."

To be constructed at the other end of Long Bien Bridge, there will also be a Museum of Contemporary Art, which will rise out of a lotus. The museum will present works of contemporary art, design, and technology, and feature a library, an auditorium, a restaurant and a cafe. At the very top a penthouse bar will offer guests a magnificent view of the capital. Long Bien bridge's 131 arch-es will be renovated with hanging gar-dens in the manner of the Coulee Verte Arts Viaduct in Paris or the High Line in New York City.

The reopening of the 131 arches, currently walled in and condemned, could liberate a whole city of galleries for artisans and artists and helping to boost accessibility and interest. The arches could house galleries, studios and workshops, where artists could explore painting, printing, sculpture, mosaic, photography, design, and video art, and also per-forming arts, theatre, music and dance. Twenty arches would also be reserved for cafes, tea houses, and restaurants.

This expansive plan also incorporates Hang Dan Water Tower, which is to be renovated and transformed into The Museum of Antiquities with a cafe-restaurant on the roof. The Green Promenade — also called The Walkway for Peace — will stretch nearly four kilometres connecting Hanoi Opera House, Ly Thai To Garden, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hang Ngang, Hang Dao Street to the Thang Long Citadel, Temple of Literature, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hang Dau Water Tower and Long Bien Bridge.

"The 10-year plan will allow Hanoians to improve their quality of life with new cultural and social spaces, progressively transform urban space around a new axis: the Walkway for Peace, reinforces Hanoi's green texture beyond the edges of Hoan Kiem and the banks of the Red River and the island Bai Giua," says Nga. "These works contribute to the general development of the city, they will also help the growth of all the satellite towns and the artistic patrimony, culture and productivity of the entire country."

Since being published, the proposal has received plenty of positive feedback. Associate Professor, Doctor Vu Thi Vinh, vice secretary of Vietnam Association of Cities said that the plan was daring but feasible.

Amongst the public, the reaction has been more mixed. Minh Trang, a 21 year-old student from Hanoi University of Education, wondered if the plan would cost too much and if resources would be better spent on other practical and meaningful works, such as developing public kindergartens, schools, hospitals or houses for the poor.

But Duy Lam, a.45 year-old businessmen from Thanh Xuan district, seemed impressed at the idea. "Recently, Long Bien Bridge has shown signs of degradation. So I feel so happy when hearing about this plan. It'd be great if this proposal was approved. We can preserve the historical bridge better and create an ideal destination for tourists. But, of course, it would not be easy to make this plan come true."

Source(Timeout magazine)

If you plan to Vietnam tours this season, you can take a tour to Ha Noi, and visit Long Bien bridge - the history bridge.

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