News / Asia

    Cambodian Capital's Colonial Architecture Disappears

    The Hotel le Royal, one of the best examples of renovated French colonial architecture in Phnom Penh, May 2010
    The Hotel le Royal, one of the best examples of renovated French colonial architecture in Phnom Penh, May 2010
    Robert Carmichael

    Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, is in the midst of an architectual transformation.  Most of the buildings in the relatively young city are only two or three stories tall. But now much of the city's century-old French colonial architecture is being demolished, to make way for modern high-rises.

    The change is being driven Cambodia's dramatic economic growth over the past decade, creating jobs and new infrastructure to one of Asia's poorest countries.  A robust economy also means that the capital's old French colonial architecture is being rapidly replaced with modern residential and office high-rises, altering the city's skyline.

    Some architects and historians here say as many as 40 percent of the colonial buildings that survived decades of war and the brutal Khmer Rouge government have been demolished in the past 20 years.

    The remains of Phnom Penh's oldest training school, built in 1908 and demolished this year
    The remains of Phnom Penh's oldest training school, built in 1908 and demolished this year

    Michel Verrot, a French architect and a longtime Cambodian resident, heads the Heritage Mission, a French-funded project trying to preserve what remains of the architecture from 150-year-old French colonial period. Verrot explains that during France's rule, Phnom Penh was designed as a city of gardens, avenues and pleasing views -- now lost in the rush to modernity.

    "What is happening is that all the views are becoming very, very disturbed, with things very, very different without any idea, without any global idea of the town development," said Verrot. "This is really today the most important problem. The second one is that everything is done without any general plan. We do the things one after one," Verrot said.

    The Heritage Mission has mapped the architectural history of Phnom Penh, and has helped restore several buildings, including the iconic Central Market, which is a favorite with tourists.

    And owners have restored a few commercial buildings, like the Hotel le Royal.

    Verrot thinks the government has little interest in preserving old buildings. He says that is in part because the gem of Cambodian architecture - the temple complex of Angkor Wat - so dominates discourse that it leaves little space for other types of architecture.

    But Cambodia's colonial architectural heritage is also part of the country's history, even if recalling that past can prove uncomfortable.

    Cambodia's top culture ministry official Samraing Kimsan says his office's ability to preserve the city's architectual history is limited.  The task is made more complicated, he adds, by the attitude of many Cambodians.

    "They do not understand or do not love the traditional and old style of building," said Samraing Kimsan. "They do not understand."

    Samraing Kimsan says the ministry struggles to educate people to value old buildings despite a lack of money in the budget to preserve historical structures. He adds, the French government has funded some preservation efforts, but that money may not last.

    "Everywhere in Cambodia the provincial departments are all French colonialist buildings. So many old buildings are French buildings - [they] need to be restored. France has not much money," Samraing Kimsan said.  "But the government needs to get money. But we are now on the way of development."

    Samraing Kimsan himself seems less than enthusiastic about colonial buildings, describing them as windy, in need of air-conditioning, and expensive to restore. His preference is to develop a modern, Khmer-style architecture that marries the old with the new.

    However, tourism is a key industry here in Cambodia, and the government is encouraging tourists to stay longer than the usual three days at Angkor Wat, in the town of Siem Reap. Verrot says preserving old buildings in Phnom Penh would fit with that aim. He and other preservation advocates also note that renovating old buildings has other benefits.

    They say it is much cheaper to renovate than to rebuild. Renovation uses local materials, while new buildings require expensive imported steel and glass.

    But the government does not see Phnom Penh as a heritage town, as it does Siem Reap. And critics say that means the focus for the capital is on modernity: glass and marble high-rise towers, as in other Southeast Asian cities, such as Bangkok.

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora