Sunday, January 07, 2007

Cambodia Modern : 50s & 60s

This is a re-posting of an earlier mass mail I sent out. I figured that it would be a nice addition to the public domain.

I recently found out about a specific genre/category of architecture that could vaguely relate to
Singapore's experience of the 60s and 70s. Apparently before the fall of Phnom Penh in 1976, there was a building boom in Cambodia between 1953 and 1970 and the emergence of a style known as Cambodian Modernism (not unlike Brazilian Modernism) and enjoyed the patronage of Norodom Sihanouk. The architect most associated with this movement was Vann Molyvann, who still plays a central role today in Cambodian urbanism, preservation etc. Molyvann was a graduate of l'Ecole des Beaux Arts de Paris, and came directly under the influence of Corbusier.

This architecture sought to marry Cambodian tradition and aesthetics with Corbusian modernism, and was very much a part of a modern post-independence nation-building project. This genre can very much be placed in dialogue with Singaporean counterparts of the era (e.g. Singapore Conference Hall, National Theatre, WW II memorial,
Golden Mile, etc)

I'm attaching some images of his work, plus links to an Architectural Review article and a New York Times Magazine article about his work. Apparently, an exhibition of Molyvann's works has been held at l'Alliance Francaise de Phnom Penh. Visitors to Phnom Penh should check out Khmer Architectural Tours.

The Preah Suramarit Theatre, which burnt down in 1994.

Phnom Penh Olympic Stadium (completed for the 1964 Asian Games), a contemporary of Kenzo Tange's Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.

Close-up detail of the Phnom Penh Olympic Stadium.

A socialist Utopia housing project.

The institute for foreign languages. I'm not sure if it was vaguely influenced by Niemeyer's cathedral in Brasilia.

A book has been written about this genre of architecture, entitled "Building Cambodia: New Khmer Architecture 1953-1970" by Helen Grant Ross and Darryl Leon Collins. I know about it only because it's featured on the list of "Best Asian Books 2006" for the Asian edition of Time Magazine, but I can't find it anywhere yet. (not even on Amazon). So if any of you could tell me how to get my hands on a copy, do let me know.