Yesterday I walked twenty kilometres around Phnom Penh searching out Vann Molyvann-designed buildings.
Let me warn you now: this post contains a lot of information from Wikipedia and various Google searches that I didn’t know two days ago. I’m now going to regurgitate it as if I know what I’m talking about. Those who dislike ‘information’ and ‘facts’ may want to ignore the text and just look at the pictures.
Vann Molyvann, the first fully-qualified architect in Cambodia, was made State Architect by Prince Norodom Sihanouk in the 1950s. After independence from France, Sihanouk kicked off the New Khmer Architecture movement in his desire to create a modern, post-colonial Cambodia – Molyvann was at the forefront of this movement.
After visiting the National Museum, I began my day of Vann Molyvann with the Chaktomuk Conference Hall (above) and the Independence Monument (below). Only the back of the conference hall is visible from the road, and the security guard wouldn’t let me in the grounds. There is a picture of the front here.
A couple of kilometres away is the National Olympic Stadium. The 50,000 capacity grounds were built in 1963-64 for the Southeast Asian Peninsular Games (which never actually took place).
It’s a typical example of New Khmer Architecture, which combined Modernism with distinctly Cambodian influences from Angkor design and traditional houses. The main stadium building is surrounded by moats, as found in Angkor structures:
These staircases are directly outside the indoor arena (which once hosted a concert by Irish pop turd, Ronan Keating).
In the picture below, you can see the commentary box jutting out from the stands.
The stadium was bought by a Taiwanese company and its unclear what will happen to it in the future. Some of Molyvann’s most famous buildings have already been knocked down and replaced by cookie-cutter Chinese and Korean-designed buildings.
Few people were in the stadium while I was there, but apparently it gets busy in the evenings when people come to play sports after work.
My next stop after the stadium was the Royal University of Phnom Penh. Molyvann designed several buildings for the then Teachers Training College (the buildings are now used by the Institute of Languages, part of the university). By the time they opened in 1972, Molyvann had left Cambodia, escaping to the safety of Switzerland.
The classrooms look like frogs about to hop:
From the front:
The library (now used by the French department) looks like a traditional straw hat:
This is now the university’s English department:
The next buildings were a little harder to find. I emailed Khmer Architecture Tours who run occasional tours of Phnom Penh (none of which coincided with my visit). They kindly sent me directions.
The local dog community made it very clear that I wasn’t welcome.
The ‘100 Houses’ development was built to house staff of the Bank of Cambodia in 1965. Some of the houses are still in good condition, but some have been altered almost beyond recognition, and others have fallen into disrepair.
Finally, I went back to the city centre and found the former-Capitol Cinema.
Sadly, the achievements of the New Khmer Architects seem to have been largely forgotten. New architecture in Phnom Penh is uniformly awful and there’s little in the way of town planning. This is the National Assembly building:
And, directly opposite, is this:
It’s the kind of building that might be tolerable in an out-of-town shopping centre (where, at least, nobody sane will ever see it) but to build it opposite the National Assembly is obscene and indicative of how little care is being taken to modernise the city in a sympathetic way.
If you want to read more detailed descriptions of Molyvann’s buildings, try this site.
The Chaktomuk Conference Hall is on Sisowath Quay close to the Royal Palace. The Independence Monument, National Olympic Stadium and Royal University of Phnom Penh are all marked on maps and easy to find.
The 100 Houses can be found by following Russian Blvd west past the Royal University of Phnom Penh and continuing until you see a Toyota dealership on your right. Take the right turn just before the dealership and continue straight, past small shops and a market.
The former-Capitol Cinema is on the corner of 19th street and 148th street.