Cambodia in transition

Reminders of a golden age


The Tchaktomuk conference centre on the shores of the Tonlé Sap lake opened in 1961.

The design of this circular library, opened in 1972, was inspired by a straw hat. It is part of the Institute of Foreign Languages ​​at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

Cambodia's monument to independence was dedicated in 1962. Molyvann says he intended it to represent "continuity between ancient and modern Cambodia".

The Preah Suramarit National Theatre was demolished in 2008, 40 years after its completion. Molyvann has expressed fears that his projects are being destroyed to make way for new real estate projects that are cropping up all over Phnom Penh.

This house, commissioned in 1965 by the National Bank of Cambodia to house its employees, is one of Molyvann's "100 houses" whose design was based on traditional Khmer homes. It eventually fell into a state of disrepair.

Molyvann is most proud of his design for the Olympic stadium in Phnom Penh, which was intended to host the 1963 Southeast Asian Games but never did.

Over the past several years, citizens of Phnom Penh have begun using the Olympic stadium for their own sports and recreational activities. Although many fear it will be destroyed, a government spokesperson insists that's not the case.

An Olympic-sized swimming pool makes up part of the stadium.

Molyvann's personal home along the Boulevard Mao Tse Tong was finished in 1970, just as he and his family left for Switzerland. The architect calls the home's design an experiment that he "would not have dared to impose on clients".

Known today as the "white building", this apartment complex was part of an Olympic village project and later served as housing for teachers and government officials. The Khmer Rouge drove the inhabitants from their homes during their rise to power in the 1970s.

After the Cambodian civil war, a community of homeless and impoverished people took over the white building. It eventually became known for prostitution, drug trafficking and as a home for starving artists.

The building which formerly held the teacher's training college, opened in 1972, is now home to the Institute of Foreign Languages ​​at the University of Phnom Penh.

Cambodia is a country with strong ties to water, as evidenced by these pools frequently incorporated into building design.

The former teacher's training college in the 1970s.




During Cambodia’s “golden age” in the late 1950s and 1960s, Swiss-Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann designed many of Cambodia's most iconic buildings as part of the country’s effort to blend both modern and traditional concepts.

Following the brutal coup d’état in 1970 that brought Cambodia’s brief peaceful and independent era to an end, Molyvann relocated to Switzerland where he worked for the UN for a decade. He returned to Cambodia in 1991 and took on various governmental leadership positions. However, many of his buildings are currently under threat from development projects and land deals.

Text and photos by Frédéric Burnand, Khmer Architecture 1953-1970, Bangkok, 2006

Comments cannot be shown for the time being