Urban Sketchers Hanoi (USH) has set itself a goal to capture the essence of a city that’s constantly developing, growing and reshaping itself. Formed late in 2016 by architect Tran Thi Thanh Thuy, Dinh Trong Hai, Chu Quoc Binh and Nguyen Hoang Lam, USH aims to document cultural, historic and architectural facets, and give a wider audience a glimpse of the city before it is lost to modernising urbanisation.
“Our city changes every day,” explains Thuy. “I was born in Hanoi and from the time that I was a child until I became a student, the city is not the same. It changes very fast. If I don’t sketch it now I will forget. I sketch to keep good memories, to capture a beautiful place and to share it. To show my children what the city was like in the past.”
Each week, available members of USH meet at a pre-planned location in the city to sketch. Subject matter can range between ancient and old architecture that is on the verge of demolition, scenes rich in Vietnamese culture that cannot be replicated or are unknown to the broader public (think iconic street corners, chaotic Hanoian electric cabling, napping xe om drivers and Tet festivities), and documenting significant buildings that give insight into the city’s history, lifestyle, traditions and culture.
Conservation Through Art
“A sketch needs to be done quickly,” says Thuy. “It’s a way of drawing fast, of capturing a moment that is rich in emotion. When you are about to sketch and you have the air, voices around you, sunshine or rain, your emotions are different and that comes through in a sketch.”
Conservation is not a term that is usually associated with art. For USH, there’s a drive to conserve the architectural heritage of Hanoi at different developmental stages through sketches. This means that for every building that’s torn down and rebuilt, there’s a sketch to prove the former’s existence. What’s more, USH works to identify areas for sustainable urban development from sketches that reflect reality.
The Hanoi group forms part of Urban Sketchers Vietnam and the global Urban Sketchers (USK) network. The movement for on-location drawing was started on Flickr (an online picture gallery platform) in 2007 by journalist and illustrator Gabriel Campanario. The USK blog states that Campanario started an online forum for “all sketchers out there who love to draw the cities where they live and visit, from the window of their homes, from a café, at a park, standing by a street corner... always on location, not from photos or memory.” Since then, USK has grown into a global non-profit organisation with the motto “show the world, one drawing at a time.”
Currently, USH has over 500 members and is open to anyone who is interested in sketching, sharing and commenting on the development of the city. This includes both beginners and advanced. “It’s not a problem if you don’t know how to sketch, we will teach you,” says Thuy. “As long as you love sketching and want to keep a memory of the city, you are welcome.”
There are a number of benefits that come with this sort of sketching. This includes assisting the elderly with memory recall and giving them a way to share their images of the past with future generations.
It gives children the opportunity to become more aware of their responsibility to the surrounding environment. It encourages community connection, exchange of knowledge and awareness of areas in the city which need to be maintained, preserved and developed and it gives people a chance to observe the history, present and future of the city as and when it unfolds.