Capturing Ho Chi Minh City's architecture
As I explore new places, I tend to focus my attention on the culture, the people and the food. Architecture isn't the first thing on my mind, especially when taking photographs. But when an Instagram assignment for The Guardian Cities turned my attention towards buildings specifically, I started to notice the charm in Ho Chi Minh City's concrete. It's a captivating mix of colonial French style, modern high rises, and Vietnamese skinny "rocket" buildings (built at a time when owners were only allowed to expand upwards). The mixture boasts a personality unique to this place.
I’ve been living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam as an expat for a year now (what?!?!), and my awe of the high views like this hasn't faded. This is a sprawling city with no personal space: all buildings are squished against their neighbours, boasting skyscraper views like this one reminiscent of the game Tetris. The craziness speaks to the charm of this place, which manages to stick around despite massive developments currently underway.
From the late 1800s until the early 1900s, Ho Chi Minh City (named Saigon at that time) was a culture and commerce hub for French Colonialist Indochina. Many distinct buildings constructed during that time still remain today, especially in the city’s downtown area. And like much of SouthEast Asia, HCMC’s streets are bustling with motorbikes. Old meets new in many of the city’s street scenes.
While some of Ho Chi Minh City’s historical architecture is being demolished in favour of city development, other buildings have been repurposed, such as this 20th century tower. Known to many as the Cafe Apartment, this formerly residential nine-floor building is now packed with trendy coffee shops, local fashion boutiques and sushi restaurants. An entire day could easily be spent exploring this quirky spot, one cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese ice coffee) at a time.
Much of the city’s culture exists in its alleyways: narrow and bursting with life. The alley's are quirky, and typically have their own vibe, whether their packed with street food, a specific kind of store, or residential homes. Corners of the city like this also offer an escape from the traffic of the main streets, and are more walkable than other parts of city. This alley is located in District One, abuzz with nail salons that spill out onto the pavement.
Rooftops are an essential feature of most Ho Chi Minh City homes. They provide some much needed outdoor space to breathe, to hang drying clothes, grow plants, do exercise, or to relax on (usually at night, when it’s not so hot!). Additionally, since most Vietnamese houses don't have living rooms, rooftops become the common space for many homes. I couldn't imagine my house without one!
To sum up...
It's been rewarding to challenge myself with a new photography focus. Doing so helped me to see and capture a city I've lived in for one year now in such a completely new light. So often, architecture speaks to the history and culture of a place with its own eloquence. From decades of colonization and war, to today's rapid development, the walls can tell this city's story. It's one rich with culture, challenges, entrepenurship and determination.