60s Architecture in Phnom Penh

The Khmer Architecture tour continues to impress me.  I’ve already written about their great Phnom Penh by cylco tour, and recently I got a chance to visit one of their tours on modern architecture in Phnom Penh- the University buildings on the Boulevard Russie.

There’s more after the jump.

Boom Baby Boom: A view of the Phnom Penh city sprawl from the roof of the Royal University of Phnom Penh

Our tour met at BKK and boarded an (air con) van down to Boulevard Russie.  We stopped first at the Institute Technologie du Cambodge (ITC).  This campus was originally known as the Institute Of Technology of Khmer-Soviet Friendship and originally included housing for students and the Soviet teachers that taught them.   The building was completed in 1964 and used until its abandonment during the war in 1975.  After the war the French rehabilitated the school and many of the classes there are still taught in French.

As with many of the buildings we saw on the tour, these buildings were constructed to increase air flow and allow light while also keeping out heat and rain.

We then moved on to the Royal University of Phnom Penh campus built in 1968 by the French architects of Leroy and Mondet.  One of the most interesting parts of this campus is the domed conference hall.

Above: the interior of the auditorium building (or the eye of Sauron?)

Below: Spiral staircase backstage

The classroom building has a great rooftop area for outdoor lecturs or functions and with an amazing view of Phnom Penh.

In the left-hand corner above you can see the RUPP auditorium building and in the distance the urban sprawl of Phnom Penh. Below is the defunct RUPP swimming pool and diving board (yes, there are kids playing in there).

Our last stop was at the Institute of Foreign Languages completed in 1972 and designed by Vann Molyvann.  The campus was only used for a few years before being abandoned during the war.   The buildings are in good condition but the moats and water features (which draw from Angkorian design and also help keep the buildings cool) are in need of some TLC.

The buildings are lifted off the ground in homage to traditional Khmer houses.

I like the wave patterns the roof makes.

Stairwell inside the Institute of Foreign Languages.

Water from the moats reflects on the roof of a building.

This building is the library for the French department and is modeled after a Cambodian palm leaf hat (with the moat of water surrounding the building as the brim).

If you find you are interested in learning more about Khmer architecture I suggest the following:

Khmer Architecture Tours

Building Cambodia: “New Khmer Architecture” by Helen Grant Ross and Darryl Leon Collins

And a last thought….

This tour was a lot of fun and provided a refreshing contrast to the current cookie-cutter construction popping up all over Phnom Penh.  As our guide kept repeating- these new buildings are not built for Cambodia they are built for aircon.  But it also brought up a lot of issues that have been bothering me about the state of Phnom Penh and Cambodia in general.   While these University campuses are bustling, you can’t help but think of Cambodia’s questionable educational system and the current reports that as few as 10% of  educated young people are able to find a job.  It reminded me of a passage in a book I just finished reading by Milton Osborne on the history of Phnom Penh:

It would be easy to present a picture of life in contemporary Phnom Penh that gives full reign to pessimism.  And, without a doubt, pessimism should be a part of any assessment of the city, for there is much that is deeply disturbing about the way it is ruled and the manner in which the majority of its people must live…. (p. 195)

An important factor is the inability of any Cambodian government, now and for the foreseeable present, to find employment for those leaving school and institutions of higher education. (p. 204)

Despite the cheery and inspiring nature of these campuses we visited- this problem (one among many, for sure) has deeply serious social implications for the future of Cambodia.   After living here for almost a year I have to say I’ve been losing (but have not yet lost) my hope for the future of this country.   Osborne captures this uncertainty in his final paragraph:

Yet, it is not the place of a foreigner, no matter how closely involved in the city, and no matter for how long, to deny the hope that is clearly held by many younger Cambodians that something better can be achieved than what currently exists in their capital and in their country.

But, he continues…

Only a supremely unperceptive optimist would suggest that  tragedy is no longer part of the drama played out each day in Phnom Penh.  As the city and Cambodia as a whole stand poised on the threshold of sudden wealth flowing to the government from the oil deposits discovered in the Gulf of Thailand, might this mean that hope can finally triumph over tragedy? That there is no certain answer to that question is a sad but realistic reflection on life in contemporary Phnom Penh.

Indeed this is very true.

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3 responses to “60s Architecture in Phnom Penh

  1. Although I am not fond of the mid century modern architecture, but I give them credit for some interesting designs, like the entrance of the interior of the auditorium building, and Stairwell inside the Institute of Foreign Languages.

  2. I love architecture photography, and these are some of my FAVORITE photos from the blog. GREAT STUFF!

  3. IFL is my school, but I never knew the meaning behind its designs. Thanks for the explanation.