Phnom Penh has been showing much promise as a capital city bent on reaching the modernised ranks of its regional counterparts.
It is popping out high-rise buildings and skyscrapers at alarming rates – although sometimes not completing them – refurbishing existing landmarks and the few parks peppered across the city, and birthing new malls and entertainment facilities. In this race to modernisation, however, Phnom Penh may have neglected the imperative need for basic liveability in terms of designating public green spaces like parks for the masses’ enjoyment and leisure away from the pollution of nearby traffic on roads.
Post Property got some insight from Hun Chansan, design director of Re-Edge Architecture + Design about the city’s potential to include practicality and pragmatism in its journey towards beautification and modernisation.
In an increasingly urbanised world, Phnom Penh seems to be lagging slightly behind as it is still developing, albeit at a rapid pace. What do you think is the most modern icon or landmark of Phnom Penh, and why?
My understanding of a landmark is something with historical value, which has an impact on the people and the city in ways that make people feel a sense of belonging, pride or being a part of their growing up. To me, Phnom Penh’s landmarks will always be the Chaktomuk River, Wat Phnom, and the Independent Monument. In defence of current development, it’s hard to have modern monuments that can match up to the above because the city is growing in such a pace too fast to incorporate the people, the culture or history in mind.
I think local people have little knowledge of or are impacted by what’s being built in their neighbourhoods or city, which makes anything possible. If the people start to know their rights to their city with strong objectives of the local authority, Phnom Penh shall have modern landmarks for the next generation of Cambodian.
As an architect, what are your visions for the city in the next five years?
I am very blessed to be a part of the growing Phnom Penh because architecture plays an important role in shaping a city. Although my contribution is still very micro in the macro economy, I do feel the impact of it in the built environment. In the next five years I visualise Phnom Penh to have a proper skyline combining a CBD area with glass skyscrapers, and rustic cultural zones as well as public green spaces. A healthy city must grow globally but it must also embrace the historical identity as well as providing necessity to make people happy living, working and spending money.
To be more specific, I would like to see Phnom Penh have landmarks at gateways between the city and its national roads to make known of the entrances and promote economic activity at these intersection points. I would also like to see more pockets of public parks in the inner city and a well-designed waterfront park along the riverside. And perhaps also a modern art museum and a next-generation public library.
Which part of Phnom Penh do you think is the most ideal area to be turned into an appealing location for both tourists and locals?
Phnom Penh is blessed with its geographic location in relation to the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers. The river seems to be the most ideal place for tourists and locals. I envision tourists and locals will hang out in many spots along the Chaktomuk, Night Market, Wat Phnom, Chroy Changvar and even Koh Pich if we plan it nicely with activities, lifestyle entertainment and sports outlets. The river itself helps in making Phnom Penh unique due to its seasonal flow, the cultural activities that grow from it and its connection to the regional countries. So I hope to see more developments that make use of it.
Nevertheless, there are so many other ideal places that can be developed into specific attractions such as a cultural park or an eco-park within an hour to two from the city.
Does your company have any plans to urbanise any part of the capital city? How would you accomplish this?
I am very thankful for the past five years of works that my company has completed, and the list of our growing clients. But as an architect, I want to have more of an impact on the city, and I wish to have more influence on projects that are related to improving the urban infrastructure and public spaces. We do have a couple of proposals to revitalise urban spaces but they are not ready to be shown to the public. We hope these proposals will ignite or just serve as examples for other developments to take a look into this type of urbanisation.
When you design something for the masses, which target audience do you have in mind, and why?
My process usually starts by creating a story line, searching for reasons and connection between the location, the climate, the client, and the architecture and design that I propose. Designing for the masses is no different as the client here is the people. I think the architect needs to connect more to them not just through the physical environment aspect but relate to them the importance of their history, telling them what used to be there before, make history relatable to the modern day, and allowing them to use the space with pride and a sense of belonging.
I think the target audience is the majority of the city population; the younger generation, the older generation, the working class and also the tourists. I also think that since it is a public space, it should be designed for everyone from all walks of life.
Could you elaborate on the potential that Phnom Penh has in creating a hub that will propel its image as a metropolitan city?
In my own short opinion, we have a rich history that allows us to stand out and draw much inspiration from, and this helps in putting layers into the modern city. The growth in the agriculture, real estate, SMEs, construction, media, hospitality and tourism sectors will allow Phnom Penh to be the centre of commerce, exchange of goods and education, mutual respect and collaboration between regional governments. The city’s population will continue to grow; the need for better schools, competitive work places, higher standards of living, better housing and better transportation will usher city planners to design better environments for them.
Last but not least, Phnom Penh has a very young population that will grow up to be brighter and full of potential to impact what they decide to become in the future.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.