Next week I’m headed to Huê´, Vietnam, together with seven UC Berkeley students of the College of Environmental Design, to participate in a two-week design workshop. The workshop, fondly titled “Sustainable Development of the Eco-Museum in the Huong River Valley Region” (there are always some things lost in translation!) will be the latest in a long series of international workshops for me, through my work at Berkeley teaching urban design.
The workshop is the result of collaboration between the City of Huê´ and five universities, including Huê´ University of Sciences (Vietnam), Waseda University (Japan), Grenoble School of Architecture and the National University of Landscape of Versailles (France), and UC Berkeley (USA). Our colleagues at Waseda, who have been active working in Huê´ for over a decade to promote good planning and design, invited us to participate.
Huê´ is located in central Vietnam and was the capital of the Nguyen Dynasty for nearly 150 years in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Its importance as the royal capital left a collection of monuments along the Huong (“Perfume”) River that are unparalleled in the Asian world, receiving World Heritage designation from UNESCO in 1993.
Huê´ is facing a lot of obstacles that have put its historic resources at risk. It is under increasing development pressure due to urbanization and the weight of the over 1.5 million tourists that visit every year. With much of the city at or below sea level, it is also prone to flooding and the impacts of sea level rise. While a dam has been proposed to minimize flooding risk, it will likely bring new development patterns and a very different physical relationship with the river.
Local planners have been working hard to ensure that future changes to the city don’t result in a loss of its historic character, and the government has become increasingly interested in the role that heritage tourism can play in its preservation. While there appears to be a lot of local support to produce a citywide plan (local authorities have been trying to initiate one since 2005) there are limited resources to do so.
Enter the workshop.
While the details surrounding the workshop and what we will actually do are still a little mysterious, it’s safe to say it will function similarly to workshops past—something like a giant charrette, with teams of students, led by faculty members, working closely with local planners, residents, and stakeholders to make planning and design recommendations. My longtime colleague Peter Bosselmann, professor of architecture, landscape architecture, and city planning at Berkeley will join me, and we’ll need to work to quickly overcome barriers of language and custom. It is always fascinating and remarkable to experience participants from many nations and cultures coming together to address these kinds of problems, and I’m thankful to both my colleagues at Opticos and my clients for allowing me the opportunity.
I’ll be sending a few updates from the charrette. Thanks for reading!
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