Cambodian-born but overseas-trained, Hun Chansan, 35, is the founder of progressive architectural firm Re-Edge, where his team focuses on contemporary and functional commercial and residential designs that are responsive to their surroundings and the needs of their inhabitants. Will Jackson caught up with Chansan this week to ask him about some of his favourite buildings in Phnom Penh
I have a long history with Central Market because I grew up in the neighbourhood. My mum always brought me there, and I used to hang out there with my childhood friends. The road around it used to be very quiet, not many cars, and the surroundings still had a lot of gardens and trees. This was around ’86 or ’87. It was still very quiet, like a small town, really. Architecturally, the market stands out from everything around it, so it becomes the focus of the community, socially and economically. It’s also interesting because, while it’s a dome, it’s articulated, so if you look from street level towards the building, it looks like a classical Khmer tower. So I think that, while it could be described as art deco, it has that reference to classical Khmer architecture. It’s also a really nice building. Inside, you see how the light seeps through, and it’s environmentally friendly, passively cooled. It’s not hot even though it’s got no AC.
I normally take the road past the Independence Monument on my way to work. Every time I drive by the monument with my kids, they always scream: “Wow, Papi, wow!” The building has a sense of pride for the people and purpose about itself. The design is like a modern approach on Angkor Wat or other classical Khmer architecture. The technique of construction is different – it’s not stone anymore. In terms of design, it’s modern because it’s Vann Molyvann, but it’s classic because it represents Khmer history.
The Chinese House was one of the first Chinese houses in Phnom Penh. My grandparents come from China, so perhaps it has that connection with me. I like it because the architecture is preserved as much as possible even though the interior has changed – it’s now a bar and restaurant. I like to have dinner there because the atmosphere is different to any other place – nowhere else has that history of Chinese and Cambodian heritage.
The Himawari Hotel is located right in a prime area, but it’s quite humble. It’s not so much about the architecture and more about the layout. It’s very human-friendly. You drive in and they have this generous setback, with lots of green trees, so you feel like you’re welcomed by the garden and green space. And so when you walk in, it’s very open. It’s actually semi-outdoors. It has a skylight and the wind can blow across. It feels very human-scale. You can walk directly in all the way to the river. It’s easy to get lost in hotels or get disconnected from where you are to the outside, but, with this layout, you feel it’s open, it’s welcoming and you will never get lost.
Vann Molyvann’s House
There’s no other house in Cambodia like Vann Molyvann’s. I lived abroad and studied architecture so I’ve been to a lot of seminal houses, houses that changed architecture. And this house has that quality. I can compare it to Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus School, Pierre Chareau’s Glass House and so on. What Vann Molyvann accomplished is more than just materials and forms. He incorporated regional architecture into his house. It’s a Khmer house. Inside, it’s bright and spacious, with a stair leading up to the public space and library, while the bedrooms are tucked away. The wooden-cladded ceiling floats and spans column-free from wall-to-wall. The overall design of the house makes it feel light and airy. But it’s still quite a humble home, set back from the road and private. It’s now a showroom, but they’ve kept the existing structure. In terms of not doing much to the house, it’s good.
The Vattanac Capital building is one of the only contemporary glass skyscraper office buildings in Phnom Penh. The design is quite unique. You can really call it a piece of architecture. I think the space is quite well designed. They incorporate natural light and the shading devices can be altered according to the direction of the sun. And it’s quite wow as you go in there and look up. It’s very innovative. And the level of finishes, the quality of construction, project management and materials used – I can say it’s my favourite building because of the very professional quality of finishes. You can feel that. The quality of it can be compared to any building in the world.