Hanoi/ Individual Argument: Space of Politics and Politics of Space

Based on the concepts of “Conceived space” and “Perceived space” by HenrI Lefebvre (introduced in bibliography), all the housing types and their development strategies could be analyzed in the same framework of spatial philosophy unveiling the politics and the society.

KTT housing as the carrier of the socialist urban ideas could be defined as a completely “conceived space” designed by the experts for the political interests of bureaucratic. It is the alienated ‘dream home’ with efficient plans and urban equipment. However, it turned out to absorb or said be absorbed by the perceived, the informal. The space by the authority lost its repressive power and became localized of everydayness.

Meanwhile, the old informal housing which was a result of the conceived space of different historic periods of the country was finally classified as the perceived space fitting daily practices and needs. It seems to prove the superiority of spontaneous architecture and planning then the space organized by specialists pointed out by Lefebvre.

The later-built private housing in the urban sprawl as a naturally perceived type, have the most unregulated general planning. However, the informal housing was tolerated and even encouraged by the authority since the new policy in 1986, so it could also be regarded as a completely different conceived space for satisfying the basic household requirement. The new conceived is a special phenomenon in Hanoi and was resulted from its special socio-political contradictions.

(JBIC , 1999)

I agree with Lebfvre’s argument that space itself has no power, the duality and complicity of space is constructed by the contradictions of the society. Since the independence of Vietnam to the period we discuss, Hanoi was influenced by both the Soviet ideas and the Vietnamese cultures. Before the 1980s’ reform, the urban planning was rigidly Soviet approaches (the Leningrad Plan in 1972).  However the Vietnamese Socialism had a moral-political property which encouraged the officials to regard themselves as both executors of the policies and the community members (introduced in historic documents). This contrast between enactment and execution, between the designed and the experienced stacked the contradictions of space.

The outburst was the changing policies in Doi Moi period. The decentralized planning was the period results of the conflicts and it emphasized the micro-level development units and the local everyday architecture to the maximum. The urban-scale integration between formality and informality pushed by the reforms expressed the complex urban background; and the overwhelming determination by the perceived and the local finally led to the new reform of re-centralization in the late 1990s.

Instead of judging the appropriate level of the urban strategies, we get the opportunity to see the special collision and collaboration between the authority and the local, between the conceived and the perceived in Socialist Hanoi. Its changing housing can provide us a specific perspective with ample information and sources to study a city in a transition period and draw the impacts of urban strategies towards a broader urban discussion.


  1. Japan Bank for International Cooperation (1999). JBIC Research Paper No. 3: Urban Development and Housing Sector in Viet Nam. Research Institute for Development and Finance & Japan Bank for International Cooperation. p.75
  2. Lefebvre, H. (1991). The production of space (Vol. 142). Blackwell: Oxford.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.