Ben Thanh Market - An elegant witness of Saigon history 5 minutes to read

Ben Thanh Market – An elegant witness of Saigon history 5 minutes to read

Republish is an experimental project of a collection of free fonts based on Vietnamese typography ruins, initiated by Behalf Studio. The following articles are part of the research series of the Reprint project.

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Saigon is changing day by day. In the flow of modernization, many of the city’s heritages expressed through unique architectures are disappearing. However, among the soulless skyscrapers, we still see remnants of a golden age, unique architectural works that used to be the pride of Ho Chi Minh City like Ben Thanh Market, which is considered as Les Halles in the heart of Paris.

Appearing in numerous photos and illustrations, Ben Thanh Market has become an important tourist attraction and symbol, albeit unofficial, of Ho Chi Minh City.

Through many ups and downs and changes, from a fresh market set up by street vendors gathered on the banks of the Saigon River in the 17th century, Ben Thanh Market transformed into a solid building. The name “Ben Thanh” means “Thanh’s harbor,” derived from the original market position.

Fig.1 – Letters made of concrete at the west gate of Ben Thanh market – Photo by Ha Doan, 2020

Ben Thanh Market was originally established by the French colonial government on Charner Avenue (now Nguyen Hue Street), next to the Big Kinh in 1859. This market unfortunately caught fire in 1870 and rebuilt. become the largest market in Saigon. In 1912, the market was moved to its present location and the work was completed in 1914.

Ben Thanh Market has undergone many restoration works. During a renovation in the early 1950s, the construction unit installed more concrete letters on the North, East and West sides of the market. The letters are placed in a synthesis, in addition to the name of the door, there are also ceramic reliefs with the image of the Mekong Delta products, crafted by famous artists in Bien Hoa who are famous in produces typical green enamel and pottery. The typography and overall context of the door fronts are influenced by European modernism, especially the Art Deco movement.

Fig 2.1, 2.2 & 2.3 – Ceramic reliefs placed in front of the North, East and West gates of Ben Thanh market – Photo by Ha Doan, 2020

The vestiges of the charset show the smooth, neat and condensed form, bearing the distinctive mark of early 20th century typography with elongated letterforms, combined with the strokes. Curved and geometric lines. The most impressive feature is the cleverly placing Vietnamese accents, which are interlocked into the font phom, to create an overall harmony, helping to solve problems with Vietnamese characters, while ensuring the readability of the font. . The digital typeface “West Door” (Westgate) is designed to honor these artistic marks.

Figure 3.1 – Illustration of the options for density of the West Door charset
Fig 3.2 – Placing Vietnamese marks in the Western Cua charset

During research and development, the design team chatted with merchants inside and outside the market to collect more interesting historical stories. The responses were multidimensional, but no one seemed to really pay attention to the aesthetics of the characters in particular or the entire facade in general. Instead, the locals were only concerned with the function of the words, to remind them where they were. Looking familiar, indifference is easy to see in most towns around the market, even for art lovers. Over time, although the market has become a symbolic work imprinted in the memories of Saigon people, few people pay more attention to the subtle aspects of this beauty. To feel that invisible beauty, it takes more than a glance.

Fig 3.1 & 3.2 – Daily life outside market gate – Photo by Ha Doan, 2020

After more than 50 years, the status of the textual ruins is no longer what it was when it was built. The nameplates lay flat but full of silence, a contemplative witness of the time, in contrast to the tumult that took place in the marketplace. Through many events of time, these artifacts have become a part of the history of the market and a past time of Saigon.


Exhibition “Republish: For …“- Part of the Republish project is still ongoing:

  • Time: 08/01/2021 – 07/02/2021, 10:00 – 20:00
  • Place: The Nutshell Saigon, 58/12 Pham Ngoc Thach, Ward 6, District 3

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