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A foreign infusion: architecture & interior design


Foreign-style housing and buildings have gained tremendous popularity amongst Cambodians in the current era.

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There is a continuous growth of hybrid villas and condominiums, and also the emergence of real estate with high rise buildings and other modern construction. The styles of housing and buildings reveal the identity of a nation.

But too much foreign design can bring about the decline in Khmer style and the loss of Khmer characteristics, some experts say.

Keo Vannarin, an architecture lecturer at Norton University, said that most buildings these days are a combination of both Khmer and foreign designs, but foreign design is beginning to outweigh the Khmer style.

“We should choose Khmer design in order to protect Khmer identity and avoid the loss of identity in the future,” he said.

He also noted that Cambodia is a free market and people do not know much about their identity in architecture due to the destruction of national documents in the civil war - which is the reason why it is easy to absorb the foreign style.

“We must try our best to teach the next generation about human resources - to protect Khmer identity and promote the value of Khmer architecture,” Keo Vannarin added.

Vann Molyvann was the pioneer of “new Khmer architecture”, which emerged during the French colonial era in the 1950s, and he has since established himself as the country’s most famous contemporary architect.

He has designed many of Phnom Penh’s most recognisable buildings including Independence Monument, Chaktomok Theatre and Olympic Stadium, all of which feature more modern designs with subtle Khmer characteristics.

High rise buildings, which are just emerging, are modern and something Cambodia has never seen, according to Vann Molyvann.

Foreign house designs are a personal decision because some people find them attractive.

Chea Bunseang, the principal architect at Bunseang Architects and Associates, said that most of Cambodians don’t even know they are ordering a foreign styled house because they only pick from what they see on nice buildings.

“They do not understand much about any architecture. It is dependent on the buildings which are intended for Khmer styles, but for a universal style, it does not focus on any nation,” he said.

With regard to the architecture on high buildings such as hotels or any other buildings, he said he supports the combination of Khmer and foreign design in this modern era, but says “we have to show the unique feeling of Khmer styles”.

Chan Piseth, 23, is a student majoring in engineering at Build Bright University, also has a love of architecture. He agreed that most buildings are more foreign-style than Khmer.

“The combination of Khmer and foreign style is not wrong because it is the art of decoration and design, and choosing that is the owners right. Bit it is just so worrying that Khmer styles are becoming less and less popular.”

He said he is worried that losing  Khmer style housing could lead to the end of Khmer cultural inheritance.

Chan Pithy suggested that all Khmer building and house owners should choose businesses specialising in Khmer style rather than in foreign styles.

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