International Architecture as a Tool of National Emancipation: Nguyen Cao Luyen in French Colonial Hanoi, 1920–1940*
Ulrike von Hirschhausen
University of Rostock
This paper takes the city of Hanoi as an example in order to explore the potential of global history with regard to the urban context. It argues that the specific conditions of French urban planning made international architecture, not indigenous traditions, a tool of national emancipation in the 1930s and 1940s. The colonial administration of France in Indochina became increasingly concerned with integrating vernacular elements in its colonial architecture in order to visualize a policy of assimilation. This “Indochinese Style” was clearly seen as part of an imperial repertoire of power to which Vietnamese architects were opposed. Most of them, as the professional biography of Nguyen Cao Luyen illustrates, therefore considered contemporary architecture, as the International Style, to be an appropriate tool to reengineer a colonized society in the direction of national emancipation. When the French assigned a large area in southern Hanoi exclusively to the Vietnamese, this “New Indigenous Quarter” turned into a laboratory of international architecture that the emerging Vietnamese middle-class regarded as a means of practicing global modernity. Only the interconnectivity of the local, the imperial and the global realm helps us to better understand why at the local level internationalism appeared in Hanoi to be the appropriate tool for designing a national future.
Keywords: colonialism; Hanoi; architecture; international style; urban planning; empire.