Living alleys: RMIT Vietnam project captures urban life
A group of RMIT Vietnam researchers has developed a creative archive of urban living in the alleys (hẻm in Vietnamese) of District 4, Ho Chi Minh City.
Selected works from An Urban Archive of District 4
An Urban Archive of District 4
In September 2016 a group of creative practitioners from the University began visiting the narrow alleys of District 4, located next to the city’s downtown business area but notorious for its history of criminal activity. Today it is no longer a mafia hub, but years of isolation have allowed the district to retain many of its old buildings and narrow alleys.
According to Lecturer Andrew Stiff, the area has received relatively little external influence in terms of urban development.
“It is still a unique urban space as it is, which offers an insight into not just urban living conditions but also an insight into a cultural environment that is resilient and resourceful,” Mr Stiff said.
The creative practitioners, researchers and research assistants from RMIT Vietnam’s School of Communication & Design were interested in recording different aspects of a group of hems located in Ward 14.
The impressive amount of data gathered was then used to constitute an online archive of life in the area called An Urban Archive of District 4.
The archive – which invites contributions from viewers – includes raw audio visual material and digitally processed data, together creating both factual and creative understandings of the unique spaces.
“We started exploring the hems of District 4, out of personal interests in urban spaces. We were fascinated by them, the inhabitants and their environment,” said Mr Stiff, whose PhD research is titled Intimate of Spaces: An archive of creative observation.
Along with Mr Stiff, the group includes RMIT Vietnam staff members Desiree Calvo Grunewald, Thierry Bernard, Loic Bertrand Chichester, Ondris Pui Hsiao Hui, Truong Thanh Hung, and Tran Thi Thao Nguyen.
A call for public engagement
The group has been presenting the project at several conferences, forums and public talks in an effort to raise awareness of the archive and enhance its impact.
“As the city rapidly undergoes redevelopment, the archive works as a unique record of the hems, something that keeps these hems not just as old and nostalgic memories but as a living entity of the city,” Mr Stiff explained.
“That way it encourages people to continue to archive, to keep it alive, appreciate the present state of these hems.”
A collaborative research project between RMIT Vietnam’s School of Communication & Design and RMIT Vietnam Library, with funding through the University’s Research Office, An Urban Archive of District 4 is open for the public to view, search, download and interact with.
“With this archive, we aim to generate social engagement to add more value to existing data and to expand the archive. Visitors can curate their own collection from the archive and submit their own works to the archive,” Mr Stiff added.
“We hope this can bring new ideas, fresh approaches and engaging resources to other creative practitioners, including our students. As lecturers, we want to encourage them to engage back to their own environment, their own communities, and use these as the materials to produce creative works.”