Cambodian architecture is well known for the temples and monuments of Angkor; but the country is also home to an extraordinary, and imminently threatened, collection of modern buildings from the 1950's and 60's. Following its independence from France in 1953 to the outbreak of civil war in 1970, Cambodia experienced a renaissance in architecture and the arts. The buildings of this era have come to be known as “The New Khmer Architecture”. The foremost architect of the time, and author of some of its finest work, was Vann Molyvann.
I. Background of Vann Molyvann
Vann Molyvann (born November 23, 1926) is Cambodia's most remarkable modern architect. During the Sangkum Reastr Niyum regime (1955–1970) Prince Norodom Sihanouk gave the impulse to an enlightened development policy encompassing the whole of the kingdom with the construction of new towns, infrastructure and architecture of the highest standard. Vann was the most talented of a large group of architects who contributed to the unique and authentic style of architecture that emerged during this era and that has been coined New Khmer Architecture.
Born in Ream, Kampot province in 1926, Vann Molyvann obtained a scholarship to pursue his studies in Paris, France. After one year of law, he switched to architecture at the School of Fine Arts in Paris (Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts). He studied in the Arretche studio and returned in 1956, the first fully qualified Cambodian architect, keen to put his talents to use. He was promptly appointed Head of Public Works and State Architect by Sihanouk.
In 1970 the Sangkum Reastr Niyum came to a brutal end with the coup d’état led by General Lon Nol. Vann relocated to Switzerland with his family. He worked for the United Nations Human Settlements Programme for 10 years before eventually returning to Cambodia in 1991 where he served as President of the Council of Ministers, Minister of Culture, Fine Arts, Town and Country Planning.
II. Vann Molyvann’s Achievement
During this era known as the "Golden Age", Vann built such famous landmarks as Chaktomuk Conference Hall, the Council of Ministers and the State Palace in the capital. He supervised the design and construction of new towns such as Tioulongville (Kirirom) and Sihanoukville (Kompong Som) and important town plans such as the Bassac development in Phnom Penh, where a mix of cultural facilities such as the National Theatre Preah Suramarit and the Exhibition Hall neighboured with large housing experiments. He also designed many of Cambodia's embassies and exhibitions abroad.
A. Olympic Stadium (National Sports Complex)
In 1962, Molyvann designed the 60,000 capacity National Sports Complex which was once the most prized arena in all of Southeast Asia. The stadium, built to Olympic standards, is still the largest venue in Cambodia. Initially built at break-neck speed to house the 1963 Asian Games that were then cancelled, it was inaugurated in 1964 to an enthusiastic crowd. It hosted such important events as the GANEFO games and the President of France, Charles de Gaulle’s state visit, in 1966.
The architects decided on an earth and concrete concept, digging around the building outlines to create moats – similar to Angkorian design – which allowed the buildings to be built up and reinforced to prevent any incidence of flooding.
B. The 100 Houses
The 100 Houses project, completed in 1967 to house workers of the National Bank of Cambodia, is a collection of 100 identical houses on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. The buildings are inspired by traditional Cambodian wood houses but rendered in refined modern detail. Some are in an advanced state decay, others have been extensively modified or replaced by oversized luxury villas—a few are reasonably well preserved. One owner kindly provided access to a very well maintained home. The VMP also made their way into a partially collapsed house—sad to see but helpful as the VMP could get a good...
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