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Vann Molyvann's Phnom Penh

Photographer: Nikolas Koenig

Architect/Designer: Vann Molyvann

Client: New York Times Magazine

Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Shoot Date:
May 15, 2005
Published Date:
May 15, 2005
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.
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.
Mr. Vann, who trained at the Ecole Des Beaux Arts in the late 1940's and lives in Phnom Penh today, adapted a modern vocabulary to Cambodia's culture, climate, geography and its vernacular and ancient architectural traditions. In particular, the buildings elevate what we now call “green” technologies—double roofs, cross-ventilation, brise-soleils, indirect lighting, evaporative cooling, use of local materials—into exquisite architectural form.
The buildings are beautiful, they work, and are in danger of being lost forever. Many of Mr. Vann’s most important buildings, having managed to survive a civil war, American bombing, the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese occupation, are now threatened by the rapid and chaotic development of Phnom Penh. In 2008, two of Mr. Vann’s greatest buildings, the Preah Suramarit National Theater and the Council of Ministers, were demolished. No comprehensive record of the work exists. If a building comes down, it is gone forever. (The Vann Molyvann Project)
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