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Searching for a house of smiles

A primary aspect of 'Hiscal' is economy of technique. Still the soul of the architect

comes to the surface when Thierry David describes his secret aim to build a nice

habitat.

"I want to build a house that brings a smile," he says. "A house where

the synthesis of forms, colors, volumes, light, ventilation, and fitting makes you

feel good. Vaulted ceilings have the ability to avoid an overburdening effect. It

is a supple element."

Last November, David started to build Agir pour le Cambodge, a social center to take

in prostitutes and street children. Located on the outskirts of Battambang, the aim

of this work of architecture was also to deliver a message. With its eight-meter

mosque-like dome, or cupola, the construction site offers vivid proof of another

advantage of mud: its adhesive capacity. "We are able to make arches, cupolas,

and vaults. You couldn't do that with cement," says David.

Vaulted ceilings have an additional advantage in that they do not need a drainage

system and are therefore perfectly suited for Cambodia's climate with months of heavy

rains, he argues.

It took David about ten years to get from the concept to reality. "Everybody

here uses concrete, columns or square bricks because it is easier to design. Of course

it was not a piece of cake," he says. This type of architecture has nothing

to do with what is constructed locally. "But can you speak about a collective

Khmer architecture? You have to go back to Angkor Wat to find a pure Khmer identity,"

he claims.

David and his team try their best to capture the Khmer spirit. Wrought-iron window

frames are manifestations of this state of mind. Apsara-shaped windows welcome visitors

and allow fresh air inside the structure.

"Phnom Penh has been invaded by concrete buildings," he observes. "The

Barangs - westerners - created the whole thing," Between the extremes of traditional

houses using wood and unplanned urbanism, Hiscal tries to forge a middle path.

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