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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.