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Project Profile


2009 Honourable Mention

Tang Family Chapel

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Project TitleTang Family Chapel

LocationNo. 16, Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, Hoi An, Viet Nam

Size231 square metres

CostUS$ 33,582

Responsible PartyNguyen Chi Trung and Huynh Bai

Heritage ArchitectLu Tan Quang

ContractorKim Chau Services and Construction Co., Ltd.

Date of Completion23 March 2008

Project Synopsis

Tang Family Chapel was constructed during the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century by one of Hoi An’s leading Chinese merchant families. At the time, Hoi An was the largest port in south-central Viet Nam, then known as Annam.

From the sixteenth century, the ancient entrepôt of Hai Pho at the mouth of the Thu Bon River — a site once exploited by the local Cham population — attracted Chinese and Japanese merchants in the spice and ceramics trade. Hoi An lost this privileged position toward the end of the eighteenth century with the collapse of the Nguyen Dynasty. Competition from nearby Da Nang and the silting of the river mouth diminished Hoi An’s significance, so that by the time of the construction of the Tang Family Chapel, the port town was already in decline.

Some of the Tang family had served as officials during the time of Nguyen rule and had become successful merchants involved in many aspects of Hoi An’s trade. Following ancient Chinese traditions, families in Hoi An with Chinese heritage, such as the Tang family, built shrines to honour their Fujian ancestors. These chapels celebrated the families’ origins and those of distinguished members. The Tang Family Chapel was one of many family shrines constructed in Hoi An.

Over the years, the family chapel gradually fell into disrepair. Frequent flooding of the nearby Thu Bon River added to the cumulative destruction. By the late twentieth century, parts of the ancient structure were in an advanced state of decay, with wood elements, such as the gates, doors and staircases, particularly affected. The brick floors and walls had also suffered from neglect. So too had the roof beams and the roof cladding of “yin-yang tiles”. Other problems included shrubs and weeds sprouting in the untended rear courtyard, retaining moisture and attracting insects and vermin. The interior of the chapel had also been neglected, with humidity and layers of accumulated dust damaging the shrine’s furniture and paintwork.

The conservation of Tang Family Chapel was in large part an attempt to safeguard the ancestral shrine of a specific family, but was also an effort to call attention to the historical, artistic and cultural significance of Hoi An’s family shrines in general and to protect what had become an object of interest for Hoi An’s tourists. The restored Tang Family Chapel serves as a key element in the overall context of the Hoi An World Heritage site, adding an important visual component to the streetscape of Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street in particular.

Conservation Approach

The conservation work on Tang Family Chapel spanned a period of eight months in late 2007 and early 2008. The project followed standards set out in international charters, guidelines and agreements and also adhered to the conservation principles of the Cultural Heritage Law of Viet Nam and local regulations.

The project involved repairs to the floors, walls, the roof structure and tiles and meticulous repair and cleaning of the altar and other decorative elements. All work met high standards and was preceded by an extensive degree of preliminary research and physical investigation.

A significant aspect of the project was the reuse of historic materials, including rotation of defective bricks. Conservation experts carefully inspected remaining elements within the site and assessed whether elements could be reused. When specific features proved too decayed to be salvaged, the conservation team reproduced the items in new materials matching the originals. Artisans ensured that the new repairs fit in seamlessly, while at the same time making it clear to a knowledgeable observer which elements were new and which were old. The team respected parts of the building that were still intact, leaving these in their existing condition. These included the gable entry and the façade’s fence, both of which received minimal treatment.

The work on the chapel emphasized the application of numerous traditional artisan skills and the manufacture of traditional materials. This included brick making, timber joinery work, the mixing of traditional lime coatings and the retrieval of historic methods for the installation of terracotta roofing tiles. Thus, the work not only preserved the authentic character of the existing structure, but also emphasized the importance of craft skills and historic materials in the overall conservation process. Artisan skills were key to the project’s success. The contributions of the carpenters and the artists from Kim Bong Carpentry Village made an important impact in terms of the overall quality of the restoration work. This was particularly evident in their treatment of wooden structural elements, including the roof rafters and ties and the supporting posts and beams. Their work showcased the skills of carpenters of another era and the sometimes forgotten legacy of artisanship within historic buildings.

The quality of the work throughout the project helped give voice to the architectural significance, ambience and authentic character of the chapel in its historic context. The interventions were sympathetic to and harmonious with the intrinsic fabric of the building and its surrounding area, and have added appreciably to the overall appearance of the World Heritage site of Hoi An. 

Conservation and the Community

The conservation of Tang Family Chapel resulted not only in the refurbishment of a family shrine, but also contributed to the overall character of the town and community. The project stands as an exemplar of conservation practice, offering an example for other conservation efforts in the historic town. In particular, the project provided a model for timber conservation and terracotta roofing replacement.

Careful conservation of the family chapel enhanced the community’s interest in preserving family legacy. The project also contributed to a better understanding of Hoi An’s history and its architecture generally. The chapel especially helped the people of the community to recall the special cultural connection the historic port once had to China and the town’s important place in the trade networks. It is hoped that the project can assist in stimulating other family initiatives and thereby promote the protection of other important historic sites within the town.

Quote from the Project Team

“The Tang Family Chapel is an inextricable part of the Hoi An World Cultural Heritage Site. Its cultural, architectural, artistic and archaeological values have contributed to the World Heritage Site in particular and to the local character in general.”