Architecture & Sculpture in Saigon/HCMC

“What the heck are these buildings? Why are they here in Saigon?” – such like were our reactions while visiting major colonial architectures in Saigon. These architectures included the Saigon Opera House, the Riverside Hotel, the Vietnam History Museum, the City Hall, the State Bank, and several colossal statues spread all over Saigon. Looking at the design of these architectures, we were baffled by many foreign elements which are surely not of local cultures, such as twin "angels" with wings and helmets. We thought these can only exist in Western movies! We found it even more troubling since these are major sites of tourist attraction that everyone visits. From foreign tourists to domestic audiences, these buildings seem to be magnificent backgrounds for fancy Instagram photos! Admittedly, we, too, were quite absorbed by the buildings at first glance.

But only until we took "Augustus in Saigon!?". The course urged us to look beneath the surface of these buildings with the following questions in mind: what are their architectural styles? what do the iconographies and symbols carved on the buildings mean? what are the frames and ideological processes embedded in these long-ago colonial projects? These are now also the central questions that our exhibition tackles and seeks to investigate. For each major building, we will look at its “exterior”, the things that we can see and discover with our own eyes: the building as a whole, its architecture, its sculptures, and reliefs; but also at its “interior”, the things that are hidden and veiled: French colonial legacies, the ideological battles between North and South Vietnam, and their mirroring of modern Vietnam’s values. By gazing at the buildings’ façade and soul, we aim to explain exactly why and how the Roman emperor Augustus was and is present in Saigon though he never was here in ancient times.

As a group of emerging Vietnamese students who have not been through colonial and war times, the exhibition is our humble attempt to learn about our roots and about the becoming of contemporary Vietnam, and to share this knowledge with everyone. The exhibition is a collection of smaller research projects conducted by us Fulbright University Vietnam students on colonial buildings and architectures.


Nguyen Do Nguyen, Do Thi Minh Han, Phan Thi Minh Anh, Bui Hoang Long, Nguyen Hai An, Le Minh Khoi, Le Thi Nga My, Lê Nguyễn Diễm Hà, Vũ Hà My, Khâu Thanh Lâm, Nguyen Van Trung, Vo Dang Minh