Saigon Opera House gets a digital avatar

By Ha An   October 26, 2020 | 09:13 pm PT
A 3D model of the 120-year-old opera house in HCMC’s heart has been built to serve its preservation in the future.

Built in 1898 by the French colonialists and put into use in 1900, the Saigon Opera House has a design that was trendy in the late 19th century. All of its decorative patterns, facade reliefs and interior designs were brought from France to Vietnam.

The opera house has for long been a venue for major art programs, national and international levels. It has also been a tourist attraction for decades.

However, inside and outside the building, dramatic changes have taken place over the years and the impacts of such developments, big and small, should be taken into consideration, said Le Huu Luan, former director of the Movie and Performance Organizing Center. The center, also known as Saigon Concert, functions under the municipal Department of Culture and Sports, which directly manages the opera house.

Luan, who worked for 21 years at the opera house, said his concern about the building has been growing after seeing an underground station of the city’s first metro line, which will run from Ben Thanh Market in District 1 to Suoi Tien Theme Park in District 9, being built in front of the opera house, and then learning how difficult it has been to try and restore the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris after the massive fire last year.

The opera house itself has been degraded over time and that is unavoidable, he said, adding that last year, the historic building developed long cracks running along its roof.

The architecture inside the Saigon Opera House. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Inside the Saigon Opera House. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

Keeping the building’s safety and preservation in mind, in September last year, a project was launched to create a 3D model of the building. A city-based private firm, Portcoast Consultant Corporation, was chosen to carry out the project.

A team of more than 30 engineers were employed to work with laser scans and geodetic equipment to scan the building from more than 350 positions around it.

Outside the building, crane trucks lifted engineers and equipment to a height of 20 meters to scan the entire facade and roof. Some of them had to be lowered on to the balconies of the highest floors of two nearby buildings to complete the scanning task.

After capturing all the details needed, the specialists developed a 3D photograph of the structure, with every 3D detail comprising data about the size and material as well as historic meaning of the actual detail. The technology used is known as Building Information Modeling (BIM).

The project was completed earlier this month.

Hereafter, when it becomes necessary to repair or replace any part of the opera house, it will be easy for experts to printing the digitized data and then make a model of the same size with the same material.

A 3D image of the Saigon Opera House. Photo by VnExpress/Tam Trinh

A 3D image of the Saigon Opera House. Photo by VnExpress/Tam Trinh.

Pham Anh Tuan, CEO of Portcoast, refused to disclose the cost for the project, only saying the entire team has been implementing it because of the wish to preserve a historical and cultural building and not for profit.

In their next step, the team will transfer all the data and the 3D model of the opera house to the municipal culture department and the building’s direct manager, Saigon Concert.

Ngo Viet Nam Son, a Vietnamese architect with 30 years of experience in design consultancy and architectural planning, said digital preservation was a necessary step to help restore heritage works in case they are damaged.

Several developed countries are using this method to preserve their heritages because it helps store highly accurate information about a building, he said.

If the city wants to continue applying this method to other old buildings, it should organize an auction to choose the best technology and firm that can do the job while effecting budget savings, he added.

Experts have noted that apart from the Saigon Opera House, HCMC is home to more than 150 other buildings around 100 years old that carry significant cultural, art and historical values and should be preserved for future generations, such as the City Hall, the Post Office, the Notre Dame Cathedral and the HCMC Museum of Fine Arts.

Vo Trong Nam, deputy director of the municipal culture department, said they will consider applying the digital preservation method to other heritages.

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