I had another fun Sunday doing a Khmer Architecture Tour (this time with one of my oldest and dearest friends who was in town for a visit). Part of the fun of these tours are the very well informed tour staff made up of architecture students and graduates (primarily from the Royal University of Fine Arts). Sokly is a guide I’ve had several times and I am always impressed with his passion and eloquence for architecture and urban planning in Phnom Penh. This tour was short- only visiting three locations and not as photogenic as my last few tours, so I have only a few photos to share after the jump!
Above: One of the “100 Villas” located in the Toul Kok section of Phnom Penh
One of the underlying points of all the Khmer Architecture tours that I have been on is noting the contrast between the urban planning, excitement, and creativity of Phnom Penh during the French Colonial period and especially the New Khmer Architecture period with the state of things in Phnom Penh today. This was immediately brought to the forefront as we started our tour and were met with flooded roads.
This water is knee deep and our little mini-bus was totally unable to pass through, so we had to cut this part of our tour short. This water is from rain LAST NIGHT which still hasn’t drained. It hasn’t drained because the city is filling in the lakes around Phnom Penh, lakes that provide natural drainage for flood waters like these. It shows an amazingly deep lack of foresight and lack of consideration or care for Phnom Penh’s citizens.
But this was not always the case. Back in the 1960s the National Bank of Cambodia wanted to build affordable and unique housing for its employees. People could make small monthly payments and then in 25 years or so, own their own homes. Of course many people only got to live here for a few years before being evicted during the war. Our guide Sokly said almost no unmodified houses remain- almost all of the new owners have made changes. The original houses were built to facilitate air movement and keep them cool without air con. Sokly pointed out that you can see the 100 houses from Google Earth (thanks to their distinctive roof). Here’s an example below!
Next we moved on to a Villa that was built for a doctor. He made the floor plan very open with a huge atrium so he could use the space to see patients, throw parties, and shoot movies. No one knows if he ever followed up on his last goal. The building is now used as a medical clinic and is in need of some repair.
The metal roof above is a recent addition.
Above: Sokly explains the space
Above: I thought these floor tiles were funky
I thought it looked like these brooms were about to jump up and magically begin sweeping the floor themselves.
The view from the top of this Villa would’ve been quite different in the 60s.
Our last stop was really special- the “Double-Stair” house. A beautiful villa that had two staircases- one regular and one spiral. This home is privately owned by a Westerner with an amazing sense of style and he kindly welcomed all of us into his home to inspect every inch. And also pet his rescued dogs and cats.
Sorry this shot is so blurry- the light was low in the house.
The bright entrance was so inviting as were the dogs (below).
Find out more about the always entertaining Khmer Architecture Tours here.
Wow! Those villas actually look really nice. It’s pretty cool that they’ve all been modified – a great example of living architecture.
Actually some of the modifications have not been so great. The houses were meant to keep things cool without aircon but aircon is a status symbol so people wanted to add it. There were some other gaudy additions as well but a few still looked quite charming from what we could see.
Mandevu did this tour back in ’07 and posted about it here:
Worth a read!
I wonder which period was a better living condition for Cambodian, back in 1950s and 1960s, or now. As usual, a very interesting entry.