11. Change of trade patterns in the Ancient Quarter

Shop house is an ubiquitous building type in the Ancient Quarter, where commercial function and residential function are mixed within a house.[1] This type encourages locals to have their family business where the distinction between life and work are blurry.

The Ancient Quarter has been home to a broad array of small entrepreneurs since the 13th century.  Originally, it was “the locale for craftspeople and traders who, arranged in phường (lane) or neighbourhoods, undertook activities such as lacquer painting, production and silk dyeing.” [2] Shops within the same industry are concentrated at the same lane. For example, Lan Ong was the lane where shops selling honey wax were located.

The implementation of Doi Moi in 1986 gave rise to the market-orientated economy in Vietnam. There were two major changes brought to the ancient quarter. Firstly, some existing traders changed the commodities they traded in relation to the shifting demands of the urban population. For example, Kien had originally sold vegetable cooking oil, but since Ðổi Mới has been selling shoes. His street, Hang Dau started to be ‘a shoe street’ while Hang Giay, which was originally “a shoe street” shifted to other industries. [3] Traders began to change their trading patterns from less profitable products like sedge matting to more profitable products like plastic, rope and canvas goods. In a market-orientated economy, the trading patterns are influenced by demand but not only traditional crafts.

Secondly, many of the new enterprises emerged in the ancient quarter. Private sectors hire employees from the state entreprises. The scale of enterprises no longer confined to family businesses. While the scale of business enlarged, the intimate relationship between the commercial function and the residential function of shophouses vanished in some cases. [4] In some shophouses, the owner of the residential unit was no longer the owner of the shop. This led to the lost of some traditional crafts because the trading patterns were led by the market but not the cultural heritage from the ancestors.

From the case of the post-Doi Moi ancient quarter, it is observed that the segregation of ownership between the commercial and residential uses had become the trend.  The Vietnam government shared similar logic when designing the new urban area.  Figure 1 shows the program zoning in Linh Dam. Residential use had become the core of the area. Other land uses including commercial uses were only complements to the residential part. Unlike the ancient quarter, the spatial functions of the new urban area were clearly defined by zoning.


Fig.1 Program Zoning of Linh Dam

Image Source: S. J. L. Geertman, The self-organizing city in Vietnam: processes of change and transformation in housing in Hanoi, (Eindhoven: Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, 2007), 279.

In short, the trade patterns in the Ancient Quarter have become homogeneous after Doi Moi. The decline of family businesses and the emergency of private sectors led to the lost of the traditional craftsmanship. The segregation of ownerships of the residential part and the commercial part violates the purpose of a shophouse which is fusing the working and living functions of the building. The zoning in Linh Dam, which is close to the international standard, is effective in terms of controlling the portions of various programs within an area. However, unlike the organic urban fabric of the ancient quarter, the zones are often more generic and less indigenous.



1. Kien To, “‘Tube House’ and ‘Neo Tube House’ in Hanoi:
A Comparative Study on Identity and Typology”, JAABE vol.7, no.2, (2008): 2.

2. Turner Sarah, “Hanoi’s Ancient Quarter Traders:
Resilient Livelihoods in a Rapidly Transforming City”, Urban Studies Journal Limited, Vol 46, Issue 5-6, 2009 (March 2008): 1205.

3. Ibid, 1213.

4. Ibid, 1214.

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