SGN: On the Utility Poles of Ho Chi Minh City

NORITAKA MINAMI is a Chicago-based photographer; his project SGN is an investigation in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and the current state of the steel lattice towers first erected by the French as utility poles during the early twentieth century to facilitate the development of the Indochinese Union. Despite the passage of time and the tumultuous history experienced in this region since their construction, these lattice towers have endured and remained a consistent presence in the built environment of the city. The major social, political, and economic developments within Vietnamese society in recent decades have also led to these structures becoming a truly extraordinary visual sight. The number of cables now supported by the lattice towers far exceeds the original capacity of their design and has transformed each one into a unique, sculpture-like object. The overwhelming amount of cables that have accumulated on the lattice towers is the product of the rapid socio-economic transformations that Vietnam have experienced since reforms were initiated in 1986 with Đổi Mới [Renovation]. The photographs in SGN examine these overlooked remnants of French colonialism in the contemporary landscape of Ho Chi Minh City as structures that represent the historical trajectory of the region as it evolved from one of the centers of the French colonial empire in Southeast Asia to the economic engine of an independent and developing nation attempting to merge socialism with global capitalism. At this moment, these lattice towers and the innumerable cables they support are also starting to be removed from sight as part of the modernization of the city’s landscape in the twenty-first century. This recent tide of urban redevelopment and the decision to remove what is viewed as “blight” has only increased the photographer’s sense of urgency to document these structures before they permanently disappear from the built environment. With Vietnamese society in the midst of major changes at this moment in history, the photography series meditates on the past and considers the imminent future of this landscape through the presence and disappearance of these lattice towers.

You can read an essay on the towers here.

An exhibition of photographs from this project will be held at FLXST Contemporary in Chicago from January 9 to February 14, 2021. For more information, please visit the gallery website.
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SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
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