Transformation of Hanoi: A Photographic Essay // Mathieu Arnaudet

Ever since his initial visit to Vietnam on a research assignment, Mathieu Arnaudet became intrigued by the onset of drastic changes occurring in Hanoi. Over the course of his long-term photo essay, Transformation of Hanoi, Mathieu’s photographic exploration has not only been a process of documentation of the contrasts and transitions but has also brought to his attention some questions and potential issues about the future of Hanoi.


Transformation of Hanoi: A Photographic Essay by Mathieu Arnaudet


My first experience in Vietnam was in 2010 as a student working on a case study about the relationship between the European Union and Vietnam. It was not so long ago, yet I do not remember seeing or really hearing about the big shopping malls and gated communities we see today in Hanoi.


At that time, I lived in Cau Giay District, which was just at the beginning of its transformation, and when I returned to Vietnam in 2014, I decided to revisit this District to document the changes. Progressively, I expanded my visits to get a broader view of what was at work in the Capital. I discovered a millennial city in the process of change, where new buildings, condominiums and gated communities were emerging almost every day.


Hanoi has for many years been defined by its traditional and historical identity, (especially around the 36 Old Quarter streets,) yet is now becoming a city which holds new opportunities for seekers of comfort and entertainment. Real estate developers have tapped into a new consumer desire and those who build quickly expect equally fast gains.


This photo essay highlights the contrasts of a city in transition and underlines the strategies of real estate developers to seduce a rapidly growing Vietnamese upper class by offering an alternative to a polluted and congested Hanoi. If the effective public policies (transport, green space etc.) are very slow to be implemented, the private sector offers more and more opportunities to wealthy people to live in a “healthy and protected” environment.


Absolute poverty in Vietnam has greatly diminished in recent years due to the opening of the country and the entrepreneurial culture of Vietnamese. Though, new challenges will soon be faced during this time of unbridled and speculative urban development leaving three open-ended questions:

1) Can economic and urban development be acheived while also preserving the city’s heritage?

2.) Will the current urban development be applied to a still wider population?

2) Will the public policies make a better, more livable city for the urban population?