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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Famous architect Vann Molyvann dropped from conference speaking list

Famous architect Vann Molyvann dropped from conference speaking list

A prolific figure in Cambodian arts, famous architect Vann Molyvann is the

designer of some of the Kingdom's most remarkable buildings, among them the

Olympic Sports Complex, the Independence Monument, and the Chaktomuk and Bassac


Vann Molyvann: 'From now on, [the government] should not do the same as the year 1990 until the present. I insist [the government] not continue to have anarchy any more. Please implement the existing law.'

According to Tamara Temeishvili, coordinator of the seminar on

preserving Cambodia's urban heritage, Molyvann had been listed as a speaker at

the seminar, but a decision to drop him from the final agenda was made by Chhun

Sirun, deputy governor of Phnom Penh in charge of city


Molyvann, a former Minister of Culture, spoke to Post

Reporter Sam Rith about the city's plan for urban preservation.

Post: On

January 16-17, there was a UNESCO seminar on the Preservation of Urban Heritage

and at the last minute you were removed as a speaker for the seminar. What had

you prepared for the seminar?

A: I prepared a statement on the review of

planning strategies in the 1960s in relation to urban heritage and conservation

of historic areas.

Post: Why weren't you permitted to participate in the


A: I do not know why I was removed because they [the

municipality] did not tell me the reasons.

UNESCO invited me to be a

speaker for the seminar two months ago. But a day before the seminar, the

municipality informed me that they would not allow me to attend.

Post: In

your opinion, what role does urban preservation play in urban


Phnom Penh's Psar Thmey, or Central Market, designed and built by the French in 1937, is the showpiece for the city's preservation plans. In the background on the right is the dome of the new Sorya Market. As part of a nearly US$8.64 million project, the French Development Agency and Phnom Penh Municipality began renovations of Psar Thmey in November 2005, which should be completed in April 2007.

A: Since the [preservation and development] law was set up,

[there has been] a master plan for managing the city to protect heritage such as

the palace, sites surrounding the Olympic Stadium, Wat Phnom and along the


No person or organization alone can reform the master plan.

The legal authority to do so rests with the municipal governor jointly with at

least five or six ministers from heritage protection ministries.


someone commits [an infringement], they will face canceling their plans and

compensating the state.

Post: How did the years of war and instability

affect urban development?

A: Cambodia differs from other countries. From

1975 to 1991, Phnom Penh was isolated from other cities in the world. It was

very anarchic.

Post: What changes have you seen recently in Phnom Penh's


A: From now on, [the government] should not do the same as

the year 1990 until the present. I insist [the government] not continue to have

anarchy any more. Please implement the existing law.

Post: What do you

see the capital looking like in the future?

A: It depends on the next

generation. If we continue doing like today, it is not worthwhile. Thus we have

to enlarge and strengthen the capital of Phnom Penh with a suitable


I have worked in Cambodia for 50 years until now, and I have seen

four or five development examples that [we] should [implement] to continue

improving the Phnom Penh city.

A photo from about 1968 of the Front du Bassac. In the foreground is the Bassac Theater, designed by Vann Molyvann and gutted by fire during restoration in 1993. Behind the theater are two parallel rows of stacked apartment buildings, set on pilings surrounded by a park. Fears have been expressed that the Bassac Theater will be demolished rather than restored. The theater's reception area formed a triangular hall, filled with the play of light and water arrayed over several tiers of staircases. It was intended to resonate with the shape of the Chruoy Changvar peninsula.

The first example is Bangkok, which has

been improved a lot. All water networks had been filled in. Thailand has tried

to have mixed development in Bangkok city. Since the end of the Second World War

until now, Bangkok has become a city of seven or eight million people - the

ninth or tenth biggest city in the world. Surrounding Bangkok, there are only

small towns like empty fields. Bangkok has traffic jams due to a lot of farmers

coming from the countryside. And then the government tries to have sky or

underground trains to solve the traffic jam.

The second example is

Malaysia, where besides Kuala Lumpur, they have also developed many other

subordinate cities surrounding Kuala Lumpur. It is different from Thailand,

which has only the one big city, Bangkok.

The third example is Rangoon in

Burma. They have developed the city by keeping all ancient styles such as a

place for selling fans and another place for selling ancient things.


fourth example is Singapore, which is very developed. And now Singapore has no

farmers and no rice fields. Farmers move to islands near Malaysia and others

surrounding Singapore. Singapore tries to rebuild ancient houses that they had

already destroyed to restore their own heritage.

And now Phnom Penh,

what way should be taken? I propose the second example, as the model, to be like

Malaysia. I propose that Phnom Penh be enlarged first, Siem Reap second, and

Sihanoukville third, in order that farmers have careers to make their living,

and schools, universities and hospitals. In Sangkum Reastr Niyum (the People's

Socialist Community), we established in every province institutions such as

museums, universities in Kampong Cham, Kampot and Battambang, so that students

did not need to come to Phnom Penh for their study.

Post: What form of

development plan is the government implementing today?

A: No way. It is


Post: Why is it important to save the older buildings and what

affect does this have on tourism?

A: They [tourists] come to our country

to see our heritage. They come to see unusual things that they do not have in

their own countries.

Thailand and Malaysia are very good at organizing

their countries to attract tourists to visit their countries.


tourists are coming from European countries, America, China, Japan and

Australia, and the most popular places they visit are Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur,

Singapore and Hong Kong.

If we want to attract those tourists to visit

Cambodia, we have to organize Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville to be what

they like.

Most tourists today come into Cambodia to visit Angkor Wat

only, not Phnom Penh. So the Siem Reap airport should be enlarged to attract

more tourists to come.

Keeping older buildings is very important to

attract tourists because they are different from other countries.


What do you think of new Cambodian architectural styles? For example, Sorya

Shopping Mall as compared to Central Market?

A: It [Sorya Shopping Mall]

did not have a proper plan. It just copied the whole building style from another


Post: Some experts have said the city will remove the Bassac

theater. What do you know of these plans? Will it be rebuilt in the same design

or will an architect be hired to construct a new facility?

A: I don't

know about that. As for Preah Karuna Norodom Sihanouk's objective, he would like

to keep the same style.

Post: Does the current government put enough

importance on constructing "public use" facilities such as stadiums, theaters

and housing?

A: No, it doesn't. Now the government has allowed a Chinese

company to rebuild [Olympic stadium] and it still has no light, no toilet and no

offices. It is different from Sangkum Reastr Niyum when we could play from 4am

to 8pm.

The stadium has to have a big organization like Apsara Authority

to manage it; one that could afford to workers to maintain it otherwise it will

be damaged. And this organization has to be able to find ways to earn


Post: What is the next big construction project scheduled for

Phnom Penh?

A: We have one project on preserving Psar Thmey. It was built

in 1935. I will be the architect working with French architects and one

Cambodian enterprise called Chan Nate Enterprise to rebuild Psar Thmey. We start

rebuilding in March this year - spending 18 months to finish. It will cost $4


Post: The UNESCO seminar presented a set of draft

recommendations for urban preservation. Did you have any input into this


A: All ideas that they [UNESCO] had in the seminar are the same

as international law.



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