Ho Chi Minh City/ Pre-war Saigon: French Colonial Era

Before the large number of American troops arrived and the war began, Saigon’s architecture was greatly influenced by the French during its colonial era (1859-1955). In their colonial occupation of fewer than 100 years in old Saigon, the French left behind a rich architectural heritage reflecting changing trends from the Second Empire and Third Republic to, even later, art deco and Le Corbusier’s architecture. With high ceilings and fans, louvered doors and windows, the colonial buildings were ideally suitable for the warm and humid local climate. The Continental Hotel, built in 1880, and the Majestic Hotel, built in 1925, were both designed in a French Colonial and Classical French Riviera styles. By the 1930s, the French had developed a distinctive Indo-Chinese architecture, merging Western and Asian elements, such style was reflected in the Vietnam History Museum and the botanical gardens. They also created broad, tree-lined boulevards and dense side streets.

Continental Hotel, Ho Chi Minh City

During the South Vietnamese government’s 20-year reign, very little was added to downtown Saigon beyond the modernist Caravelle Hotel (1959), the National Library of South Vietnam, and the Presidential Palace, where the North Vietnamese tanks crashed through marking the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. The city’s wartime population rose with refugees from the countryside and sprawled out in a muddy landscape barely one meter above high tide on narrow-fronted blocks.

For the first ten years after the Communist victory, the economical depression, Cambodian war, and the massive flight of refugees all contributed to the continuing deterioration of Ho Chi Minh City. Yet by 1986, Hanoi’s policies gave way to a Chinese-style market economy to which the more capitalist-minded south quickly readjusted, after which population grew rapidly. Today around ten million of the population live in Ho Chi Minh City.

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