A young man is fishing in a branch of the Saigon River. On the opposite shore new apartment towers are being erected.

VIETROPOLIS – Saigon‘s transformation into a mega city

Once French colonial town and known as the pearl of Southeast Asia, now the biggest city in Vietnam and the country‘s financial centre, Saigon a.k.a. Ho Chi Minh City is about to transform itself into a mega city - and it is growing fast. Within the coming three to five years the population is expected to rise beyond 10 million. Until now the old cityscape has already been altered by a number of skyscrapers. But what is to be expected, when a metropolis is changing fast and profoundly like this? In 2010 I visited Saigon for the first time. Small stores and street kitchens edged the streets emitting smoke and steam and exotic food smells. Yet, even back then highrise buildings were starting to be erected along the main roads indicating the impact that lie ahead of the city in the years to come. Since then I have been visiting Saigon several times again documenting its transformation. The change is not only happening in terms of architecture, but also regarding society and culture: capitalism seems to rule after all.
The people‘s traditional way of life, worshipping the bonds of the family, is making way for individual aspirations after wealth and consumption. Everywhere street kitchens are being torn down in order to erect modern highrises where banks and companies are doing their business and where a growing middle class is to satisfy their shopping needs. Saigon is densifiying. At the same time many inhabitants are forced to move to the city‘s fringes where real estate prices are lower. New quarters are rapidly and organically growing there, often loosely regulated by the city authorities. Where does the city end? Where does it start? Increasing traffic is requiring fast solutions, often at the cost of tearing down old structures. But are the generic highrises that follow nothing but the pulse of commercial investment really the best building practice for a unique city like this? Will Saigon, in the process of its further development, be able to keep its character?

The streets reflect the people's traditional mentality. They often consider the space in front of their houses as an extension of their living space. The boundaries between the public and the private realm often are blurred.

An urban railway system is being constructed, which is urgently required due to increasing traffic.

Welding works are done to improve existing infrastructures.

The likeness of Ho Chi Minh adorns the interior of the old postal office, a building heritage from French colonial times.

A postman is delivering letters in a weather-worn apartment complex.

Three boys are playing football in the hall of a housing complex.

The area of a former shipyard is being redeveloped with a number of highrise buildings. Images covering the construction site fence are showing the future visions.

Motorbike taxi drivers are waiting for clients in front of a shopping mall.

A woman is passing by a new built colonial style villa on a bicycle. Tower blocks are rising in the background.

Traffic jams are a regular nuisance on the main roads. Many people complain about traffic and that is diminishing livability in the city.

Saigon's population is expected to rise beyond 10 million within the next few years. In most parts the urban fabric is extremely dense, often loosely regulated, if not chaotic.

Buddhism still plays an important role in the life of many. There are even a couple of new temples being built, mostly privately sponsored.

A young woman dressed in a traditional áo dài passes between lines of parked motorbikes.

As real estate prices in the city center rise, much of the dense fabric of district 1 is expected to make way for new highrise buildings in the near future.

Although Saigon provides a tight web of bus lines, motorbikes are the most common means of getting around.

A view from Saigon's highest building – the Bitexco Tower – shows parts of the city's business district in the foreground, while the boundary of the overall urban zone seems to extend far to the horizon.

An acrobatic show and traditional water puppet theater attract a huge crowd of people.

Global capital is starting to alter Saigon‘s skyline along the river.

2014, 2016 © Robert Herrmann