Modernist Architecture of Phnom Penh

by Jane Heng | July 03, 2015 | 1 Comment

Cambodia is rich in cultural history, and visiting Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples - which are actually known as one of the largest religious complexes in the world - is not to pass. 
Having travelled to Cambodia extensively though, and with much secret insight from family and long-but-not-lost friends and relatives, my cultural buzz comes from the fascination with a time I would call, nothing other than Cambodia's own version of the 'swinging 60's'. 
My parents often speak fondly of this culturally rich era when Phnom Penh was embracing art, sound and film in a new way. Combining traditional and western culture to create something that now can be described as uniquely 60's Cambodian, they reminisce the new vein in music, a flourishing industry of Cambodian-made films and a new look in art and architecture. The architecture of this time, now termed New Khmer Architecture, and led largely by the famed Cambodia architect Vann Molyvann, gave rise to buildings that were a unique fusion of traditional and modern aesthetic and practicality. 
Many years on, with an influx of investors in the capital Phnom Penh, modernist architecture and signs of the one-flourishing era are outgrown and hidden by newly developed apartments and high rises. In an attempt to salvage the heritage of this architectural period, several groups have begun advocating for their preservation and educating the public about their rich history. 
While in Phnom Penh, I found an amazing local non-profit company that is fully run by Cambodian architects and local students, Khmer Architecture Tours, run a tour called 'New Khmer Architecture of the 1960s' which tells the hidden stories behind some of Phnom Penh's most iconic (but disappearing) modernist architectural treasures designed by famed architecture Vann-Molyvann. Surrounded by many local architecture students, which encouragingly, expressed genuine interest in learning and preserving what is left, I participated in this guided tour and happy-snapped my way around Phnom Penh. 
Oh, don't forget your water, while you nerd out about the incredible architecture  It gets pretty steamy into the afternoons.
The group also does another tour called 'Central Phnom Penh by Cyclo' and that is equally good.

Wooden floors, a rare sight in modern Cambodian houses.

Fluidity, creative ventilation using natural airflow and position according to the sun are hallmarks of Khmer modernist architecture to accommodate Cambodian extreme weather conditions, from torrential monsoon rains to tropical heat and humidity. 



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Posted in Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Travel

1 Comment

chatti said:

I’ll have to take this tour when I manage to get myself to PP again. I love looking at these buildings but having a good background knowledge of what I’m looking at would be a plus.

July 07, 2015

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