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Q&A: Hun Chan San on changes within Cambodian architecture

Hun Chan San, vice president of the CSA, receives an award.
Hun Chan San, vice president of the CSA, receives an award. Photo supplied

Q&A: Hun Chan San on changes within Cambodian architecture

The construction and architecture industries in Cambodia are expanding rapidly. Post Property’s Moeun Nhean interviewed Hun Chan San, vice president of CSA [Cambodian Society of Architects], about the changing architecture landscape.

In your view, what has changed about the architecture landscape and the living situations of Cambodians today?
In my own practice, I receive overwhelming enquiries for better homes and better office spaces or buildings. In residential projects, clients are looking for more outdoor spaces, they want to connect their living from inside to outside and they understand the use of good materials such as insulated double glass to protect and reduce heat gain from the hot Cambodia sun. Clients are more conscious about products and the quality of the materials because today’s Cambodians are experiencing a higher standard of living combined with their new, busy lifestyle of not just owning their own businesses but also entertainment and leisure.

What about office space from the Cambodian perspective?
In workspaces, my clients are asking for designs and layouts that can offer collaboration and productivity among their staff. “More we space, less me space” seems to be the direction of today’s office comparing to the older cubicle furniture arrangement.

Cambodian people are more interactive these days, they work together, they go out together and sometimes vacation together as part of a team spirit that is encouraged by their companies. So they tend to spend longer in the office or go out after work and going home after work is not as strict as before. This is also due to the growth in many other sectors such as leisure and social community.

Could you tell us if any new high-rise buildings have Khmer architecture?
First of all, I don’t think every building and architecture has to link to Khmer architecture, culture or identity. This is a globalised Cambodia, we don’t have to strictly announce that we are Khmer so we can protect our identity or art. Khmer civilisation has seen advancement from ancient times to Angkor to the New Khmer Architecture because our civilisation is continuously growing and continues to be influenced by our religion, environment, new lifestyle, new needs and what’s available in the market in terms of technology, materials, and time.

However, I do agree that certain architecture can be inspired by local Khmer architecture, and I encourage it to happen for government buildings, institutional buildings and eco resorts. I believe Khmer architecture should stand today to represent the flourishing period of our past ancestors but today should be our time to discover something new for our own generation.

With the dynamic growth of construction and a booming economy, in which ways can Cambodia move forward?

Today, Cambodia needs hotels to accommodate tourists, office buildings for commercial activities, shopping malls for leisure and entertainment, etc. This is the new lifestyle of Cambodians. Good architecture must accommodate these needs, however we must understand some basic rules such as the hot and wet climate of Cambodia, the situation of the land, the environment surrounding the buildings and the well-being of the occupants.

Today’s world is facing globalisation and coastal flooding, so the new Cambodian architecture should try to address the world’s challenges instead of staying stuck in the past. We should be proud of our past but embrace the future.

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