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A Vann Molyvann design on the RUPP languages campus. Art historian Wendy Brandow worries cultural heritage is at risk. wendy brandow
A Vann Molyvann design on the RUPP languages campus. Art historian Wendy Brandow worries cultural heritage is at risk. Wendy Brandow

The 1961 hosts apt exhibition

An exhibition celebrating New Khmer Architecture, the unique style spearheaded in Cambodia’s post-independence heyday by Siem Reap’s arguably most famous resident, Vann Molyvann, opens tonight at The 1961 Co-working Space & Art Gallery. 

American art historian and gallerist, Wendy Brandow, has put together a selection of photographs from Vann’s own archives, three of his architectural models and a series of photographs mostly taken by her last year.

Brandow first came to Cambodia as a tourist in 1992 – travelling to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh in a Russian bomber – and now she and her husband split their time between here and home. 

Visiting Phnom Penh, she was struck by the architecture and how much of it was being overshadowed, abandoned or destroyed.

“It’s an issue that we have to deal with worldwide: how do you deal with the architecture of the past when the needs of the present are so different,” she said. 

Driven by King Norodom Sihanouk’s enthusiastic nation building, architects from Cambodia and abroad developed the optimistic style, combining modernist forms with traditional Khmer respect for light, air and water, that came to define New Khmer Architecture. 

But these unique buildings that have weathered war now face an existential threat from Phnom Penh’s hungry new drive to grow, modernise and develop.

An inverted political will often leaves them without protection of any kind, indeed, sometimes the contrary. 

“The exhibition is about recording the state of the buildings today,” said Brandow, who wishes to bring the plight these buildings face to light, and encourage involvement in the preservation of cultural heritage.

New Khmer Architecture – Mid-Century Modernism opens tonight at 6pm, and runs to February 5. 

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