Vann Molyvann and the New Khmer Architecture Essay
Cambodian architecture is well known for the temples and monuments of Angkor; but the country is also home to an extraordinary, and imminently threatened, collection of modern buildings from the 1950’s and 60’s – Vann Molyvann and the New Khmer Architecture Essay introduction. Following its independence from France in 1953 to the outbreak of civil war in 1970, Cambodia experienced a renaissance in architecture and the arts. The buildings of this era have come to be known as “The New Khmer Architecture”. The foremost architect of the time, and author of some of its finest work, was Vann Molyvann. I. Background of Vann Molyvann
Vann Molyvann (born November 23, 1926) is Cambodia’s most remarkable modern architect. During the Sangkum Reastr Niyum regime (1955–1970) Prince Norodom Sihanouk gave the impulse to an enlightened development policy encompassing the whole of the kingdom with the construction of new towns, infrastructure and architecture of the highest standard. Vann was the most talented of a large group of architects who contributed to the unique and authentic style of architecture that emerged during this era and that has been coined New Khmer Architecture.
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Born in Ream, Kampot province in 1926, Vann Molyvann obtained a scholarship to pursue his studies in Paris, France. After one year of law, he switched to architecture at the School of Fine Arts in Paris (Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts). He studied in the Arretche studio and returned in 1956, the first fully qualified Cambodian architect, keen to put his talents to use. He was promptly appointed Head of Public Works and State Architect by Sihanouk. In 1970 the Sangkum Reastr Niyum came to a brutal end with the coup d’etat led by General Lon Nol.
Vann relocated to Switzerland with his family. He worked for the United Nations Human Settlements Programme for 10 years before eventually returning to Cambodia in 1991 where he served as President of the Council of Ministers, Minister of Culture, Fine Arts, Town and Country Planning. II. Vann Molyvann’s Achievement During this era known as the “Golden Age”, Vann built such famous landmarks as Chaktomuk Conference Hall, the Council of Ministers and the State Palace in the capital.
He supervised the design and construction of new towns such as Tioulongville (Kirirom) and Sihanoukville (Kompong Som) and important town plans such as the Bassac development in Phnom Penh, where a mix of cultural facilities such as the National Theatre Preah Suramarit and the Exhibition Hall neighboured with large housing experiments. He also designed many of Cambodia’s embassies and exhibitions abroad. A. Olympic Stadium (National Sports Complex) In 1962, Molyvann designed the 60,000 capacity National Sports Complex which was once the most prized arena in all of Southeast Asia.
The stadium, built to Olympic standards, is still the largest venue in Cambodia. Initially built at break-neck speed to house the 1963 Asian Games that were then cancelled, it was inaugurated in 1964 to an enthusiastic crowd. It hosted such important events as the GANEFO games and the President of France, Charles de Gaulle’s state visit, in 1966. The architects decided on an earth and concrete concept, digging around the building outlines to create moats – similar to Angkorian design – which allowed the buildings to be built up and reinforced to prevent any incidence of flooding.
B. The 100 Houses The 100 Houses project, completed in 1967 to house workers of the National Bank of Cambodia, is a collection of 100 identical houses on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. The buildings are inspired by traditional Cambodian wood houses but rendered in refined modern detail. Some are in an advanced state decay, others have been extensively modified or replaced by oversized luxury villas—a few are reasonably well preserved. One owner kindly provided access to a very well maintained home. The VMP also made their ay into a partially collapsed house—sad to see but helpful as the VMP could get a good look at the structure. In 1965, the Bank of Cambodia commissioned Vann Molyvann to construct 100 low-cost houses for its employees in Toul Kork. The design was based on the traditional Khmer house, but using 20th-century materials to ensure their survival. For example, while Khmer houses are made of timber and can move or “walk”, these are concrete and permanent. However, they still follow the traditional L-shaped plan: two rooms, with a kitchen and bathroom off a terrace at first floor level, and the ground floor left open on stilts.
Although some suffered damage during the civil war, most of the houses remain inhabited – and a great example of Khmer tradition fused with modern technology. C. Chaktomuk Conference Hall Designed by renowned architect Vann Molyvann, this venue was originally opened in 1961 as La Salle de Conference Chaktomuk. Earmarked for redevelopment as a restaurant in 1991, it was brought back into use as a theatre in 1994 following the devastating fire at the National Theatre. The Chaktomuk Conference Hall was completely refurbished in 2000, primarily to provide international-standard facilities for conferences.
Subject to programming it is still utilised from time to time as a theatre venue, but only for special programmes organised directly by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts. III Vann Molyvann’s Idea Veteran architect Vann Molyvann says Cambodian engineers working abroad should return home to help improve engineering education and development. Though Cambodia has 180 engineers who have been certified by the ASEAN Federation of Engineering Organisations (AFEO), Vann Molyvann, the Kingdom’s most famous architect, says there is much to be done to bring Cambodian engineering up to international standards. The shortage of facilities, materials, and especially well-experienced professors are the main problem for Cambodian students who want to become engineers,” he told the Post on Sunday. Vann Molyvann was at the forefront of the New Khmer Architecture movement that flourished under the patronage of then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk in the 1950s and 1960s. Of 1,230 engineering graduates who took the AFEO exam this year, only 180 were certified, according to Prak Min, secretary general of the Board of Engineers, Cambodia (BEC).
At a meeting on Thursday of the BEC, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An urged the group to train more engineers who meet AFEO requirements. Prak Min said that Cambodian engineers compare favourably with those of other countries in the region, though he acknowledged that there is more work to be done. Punching above its weight Cambodia has more AFEO-certified architects than Laos or Myanmar, a number similar to Malaysia’s, he said. Education and training issues, however, remain a challenge. Most of our students who graduate from engineering programmes need at least five to seven years of work experience before they can meet professional standards, but right now we have a shortage of jobs for them,” Prak Min said. He added that engineering students particularly need to improve their computer skills and their international language abilities, citing English and French in particular. Civil society groups, Vann Molyvann argued, may play a role in reinvigorating Cambodian engineering.
Prior to the Khmer Rouge era, Cambodian students often took advantage of scholarships or government aid to study abroad – Vann Molyvann himself studied architecture in France. But although increased international experience is one element that may improve the skills of Cambodian engineers, Vann Molyvann emphasised that domestic improvements, including the construction of new universities and the improvement of existing ones, would do the greatest good for the largest number of students.
International donors, he said, should focus on these domestic projects as they work to address the education gap. The architect added that Cambodia’s turbulent past few decades have held back the development of engineering programmes. Many of the Kingdom’s most skilled professionals fled the country while the Khmer Rouge devastated most of the best Cambodian universities and training institutes, he said. “In this situation, I call for all the Cambodian ngineers who have fled abroad to please return to Cambodia to develop the craft and teach the people of the next generation to be skillful engineers like them,” he said.
http://www. vannmolyvannproject. org/
http://khmernewstoday. blogspot. com/2009/08/vann-molyvann-calls-on-cambodian. html
http://www. culturalprofiles. net/Cambodia/Units/124. html
http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Vann_Molyvann