After nearly four years under the Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodia lost a large swath of its population, natural resources and infrastructure development, with many of the country’s architectural feats left to fall into disrepair.
Many of the structures that remain were designed by renowned architect Vann Molyvann, who passed away in September at 90. Despite surviving all of these years, many of the buildings he created are being torn down in favour of new development projects. The White Building was torn down earlier this year and the land will be used for a new high-rise with funding from a Japanese company.
One would expect more of Molyvann’s work to be replaced with newer high-rises, but one development is working hard to preserve the artistic memory of his designs. Although more than half of the houses in Borey Muoyruoy Knong (100 Houses) have been changed into something new, many are still exactly as Molyvann designed them.
Sok Na, 36, a resident of 100 Houses, told Post Property that each house within the development was changed according to the owner’s preferences. Over 70 percent of the houses have relatively new owners, but the sustainability and environment that Molyvann initially envisioned remains intact.
“The construction of 100 Houses by Vann Molyvann took place in 1965, and some houses were very poor after the war. When people had money or new entrants, the old buildings were destroyed,” he said.
The individual plots at 100 Houses are located within a 7-hectare stretch of land between the railway and Pochetong Airport in Toek Thla commune, Sen Sok district. The houses were built in 1965 under the guidance of Vann Molyvann and completed in 1967.
According to the layout published on Molyvann’s website, the one-storey homes are divided into two main parts: The wet area, featuring the kitchen, toilet and terrace, as well as the main rooms, encompassing the bedroom and living room. The houses are made of concrete and wood with a military cap shaped roof, markedly different from the tradition design of Khmer homes.
On the ground floor of every house, there is a courtyard with stairs and two entrances to the kitchen and living room.
The first floor has a terrace and bathroom, with large and small rooms in between the kitchen and toilet.
All of the windows and doors have the same size and are made with wood.
The roof of each house has the same shape, steeply pitched on one side. It looks like a military cap which allows the air to go in and out freely.
Each house has its own fence, which is in the courtyards to the front and back of the home.
Na lives in an 80-square-metre house with two rooms, two separate stairs, a roof beam, roof tiles and a surrounding fence. The 100 Houses development features 60 houses and a 40-home project.
“The construction of the 100 Houses would be better if there was proper maintenance, but over half of the people have changed the look of the house to avoid the possibility of a potential accident,” he said. “My house is rotated to the front, but there is a back yard for the air to enter in a clean environment. I admire the design. There is a lot of breathing room for living.”
Due to the ageing structure of the house and strong winds, he was forced to rebuild the ground floor in 1991. “Although my family has done a bit of a makeover, I would feel sad if they remade it because I love the house,” Na told Post Property.
Many homeowners have tried to keep the original structures of their houses, which feature Molyvann’s signature “V” shaped roofs. Almost all of the residents of the housing block are employed, but those who tried to run businesses out of their homes struggled because the area does not have much access to foot traffic.
“Today, we have some [homes] that can be sold, and some of them have been dismantled or recycled. I think there are very few people here staying because they are worth $400,000,” he said.
Na was born in 100 Houses more than 30 years ago and has always lived in his house. “Living here has been a struggle since I lived here more than decades, and no matter what, [I like] the security, environment, silence and peace here,” he said. “For me personally, I would regret it if the old architecture of the building was destroyed. We must think about the people’s standard of living but we should also keep the old [things].”
“If there is a chance, I want to make a simple home, regardless of the air conditions, so I will either buy another home or keep the original,” he added.
His friends told him he should leave and buy a cheaper home somewhere else, but he had his mind set on staying because of the good environment and a lack of any viable alternatives.
“I love the architecture of Vann Molyvann, and I have never been interested in new buildings because there is no space and environment around like my current home,” he said.
Mom Sinath, 68, a resident of 100 Houses since 1979, told Post Property, “My house is still alive, and my children live here together. But nowadays, there are new constructions in the area, and we want to renovate it too with the old structures,” she said.
With an unbounded amount of love and curiosity, Sinath has been able to maintain the house’s original form to this day, despite struggles with the weather.
“In the last few years, heavy rains have flooded the bottom of the house, given the fact that the other homes [nearby] are higher than my house,” she said.
Large houses and buildings erected nearby have made it difficult for some residents to keep up the appearance of their old-fashioned homes, and many of them flood during rainy season.
“I never intended to sell this house and I don’t want to go live in a small house like today. I wanted to fix [the house] to protect it from damage,” she said.
Toek Thla Commune Chief Hang Sohkom acknowledged that some of the houses were old and others had been renovated away from their previous look and design, but said he was proud of the area’s development and desire to keep small pieces of the past alive.
“I admire the structure of the 100 Houses project, which was well-constructed and left to the people of this generation to live today,” he said.
A former architecture student at Puthisastra University, Poum Measbandol, 28, told Post Property that viewing paintings and illustrations of old-style constructions became his routine after his friends encouraged him to.
“After researching architecture through old architects, I am impressed by the work of Vann Molyvann because every building reflects how people live, with the pond light and garden area giving the space ventilation,” Measbandol said.
He added that among the contemporary architects from the Sangkum Reastr Niyum period, Molyvann’s work was highly decorated and fit the functionality of the building itself. The best example of this, Measbandol said, was the 100 Houses development, which featured homes with different designs, optimal ventilation space and gardens at both ends.
“I can make an illustration to keep records and reminisce on the achievements of the outstanding architects as a documentary for future researchers,” he said.