13 october 2019
On Sunday morning, the project team together with interested attendees went on a guided tour on New Khmer Architecture through Phnom Penh.
The two guides Sokagna Hun and Daro Hor are active members of Khmer Architecture (KA) Tours, an association which mainly focusses on buildings erected after Cambodia’s independence in 1953 – referred to as “New Khmer Architecture” – while setting these within the historical context of Phnom Penh. The aim of KA Tours is to promote the understanding of modern and colonial architecture in Cambodia. Started in 2003 as an independent, non- profit organization, KA Tours promotes dialogue on urban heritage and design as part of Cambodia’s cultural heritage.
Starting with a walk through the former French colonial quarter, which features a number of well-preserved buildings dating from the French Protectorate (1863–1953), like the Post Office, the Commissariat, and the former Banque de l’Indochine, the tour gave a chance to explore central Phnom Penh’s most characteristic colonial spaces and architecture.
The exploration of the city continued in a narrow residential area, where a former Chinese temple and a catholic chapel can be found as some of the last witnesses of a once rich and diverse religious life in the city. Both buildings have now taken on a completely new task: when in the early 1980s people from the countryside poured back into Phnom Penh after their eviction by the Khmer Rouge, they sought a home wherever they could. They occupied the temple and the chapel and built in a number of new visible structures that continue to exist today.
The next station was the Royal University of Phnom Penh campus, built in 1968 by French architects Leroy & Mondet. Some of the most important signature buildings of the 1960s New Khmer Architecture movement can be found here, like the Institute of Foreign Languages, designed by Cambodia’s most famous architect, Vann Molyvann, and completed in 1972, as well as the auditorium hall and main university building by Leroy & Mondet. The tour ended with these wonderful examples of modernist architecture in Cambodia.