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Artists revive abandoned factory
Publication Date : 20-08-2013
An abandoned factory building in Vietnam has become an attractive site thanks to artists who turn the ruin into a nice place to live and work.
Holding a brush in his hand, painter Phuong Vu Manh wipes away the sweat running down his forehead before completing the final strokes of his painting. A few rays of sunlight shine on the canvas from holes in the roof, which were originally part of the air ventilation system of an old pharmaceuticals plant.
The walls of the room are still pock-marked with the remnants of shelves and production lines from the old plant. The glass louvered windows give the room an impressive 1960s atmosphere.
Manh is a fairly new renter at Zone 9, which is the capital's new art district, as word has it amongst artists and art lovers.
The buildings are still being renovated by many new renters. Building materials are scattered here and there or beside the well-polished windows of established fashion shops and cafes.
Zone 9, as the artists renting space in the area call it, is located at No 9 Tran Thanh Tong Street, deep inside the gate of an abandoned pharmaceuticals plant facing the French-colonial era Pasteur park, includes five buildings dating back to the 1960s with various architectural styles with influences from France, Russia and China.
The lush area is covered by shady green trees, though one curious fact is that Zone 9 is situated next to the funeral house for the Ministry of Defence and visitors can sometimes hear the announcements from the ceremonies for the dead echoing next door.
Before becoming "famous among art lovers", only a small part of the area was used for washing and parking, while most of the complex remained abandoned awaiting a construction plan that was frozen due to the economic downturn. The story only began late last year when a few artists first found the place, and now it is booming as everyone can see.
The five blocks of Zone 9, which has been occupied by many types of artists, now has yoga and painting studios, dancing classes, around five visual art studios, several fashion stores, bars, cafes, restaurants, photo studios and even private houses.
"A friend introduced me to the place, which I found spacious, reasonably priced and suitable for me to create," Manh told Viet Nam News, "It's not too far from my home and I can also gather a lot of my artists friends."
A few families have even renovated the fifth floor of Block A to live in .
"The renter offers us a three-year rental contract, but they can take the place back anytime by giving just two months advance notice," said a renter, who prefers to remain anonymous, "That's why we make use of as much of the original architecture as possible in order to save money."
Remnants of old steel pipes from the plant have been turned into flower pots, existing precast concrete bars have been used to design desks, kitchen tables and bathroom shelves.
Wild plants growing on the roof of the rustic building have been turned into decorative plants. Each rough cement corner of the building, due the skilful hands of the renters, who are also painters, now have various flowers in bloom.
"It's very cool here even during summer night, as there are too many big trees surrounding the area," he said, "It's an ideal place to stay in the middle of this small crowded city."
New arts hub
It's easy to explain why artists were among the first to move into the area: They are very creative people who can turn a ruin into an attractive, decorated place to live and work.
"This place is ideal for many purposes, not only running a cafe," said writer Nguyen Quy Duc, owner of Tadioto cafe on the 2nd floor in Block A and one of the first people to move to the new site, "The place can even host drama shows and fashion shows. This can be a place for artists, architects and writers come to chat. And it's great if they also attract other art lovers from the city."
Photographer Jundat, will open a photo studio here but doesn't intend to do business at his new premise. Instead, he has a lot of ideas for young art lovers.
"I will organise photography training courses, small music shows and fashion shows which will be completely different from official shows," he said. "Young audiences will have more of a chance to get a closer approach to performance arts from a different angle."
"There seems to be no borders between shops, cafes, studios and restaurants," said student Nguyen Phuong Linh, who is a frequent visitor to the site, "People can just wonder from shops to studios. There is no busy traffic to worry about."
"Parents can take their children here to join a painting class and they can enjoy the site's shops, cafes and libraries while waiting to pick up the kids," she said.
Architect Tran Vu Hai, who runs Bar Barbetta in Block B, a place that mostly stirs up the area at night, noted that the environment at the site was quite favourable for business as well.
"This is the first ever unique artful environment in Ha Noi," Hai said. "I hope it will further develop into a centre for arts and entertainment beyond the three-year time."