The family of Cambodia’s most famous architect, Vann Molyvann, have sought to ease concerns sparked by seemingly drastic renovations under way on the building many see as the spiritual home of New Khmer architecture.
The iconic residential house on Mao Tse Toung Boulevard was designed by Molyvann to be his own home and incorporates many of the architectural features that he pioneered.
Photos posted to Facebook this week showing the interior of the building gutted and strewn with rubble left many Cambodian architecture lovers worried that yet another iconic New Khmer building was being destroyed.
Architect Pen Serey Pagna, the founder of the Lumhor online archicture journal, said he was alarmed after seeing the pictures and was concerned about maintaining the “spirit” of the iconic building.
“It is OK if you renovate being very careful of the heritage of the building … and keep the function of the building,” Pagna said.
“But if you change the function or knock part of the building down, or if you do something that is really different from the old or original design, it will become a disaster.”
However, Molyvann’s son Gérard Vann said yesterday from Switzerland that his father – who is now living in Siem Reap - still owned the building and had approved the renovations.
“There is nothing to be concerned about,” Vann said. “We already performed many works on this building and these renovations are just a continuation of that.
“If we see something to be concerned about we will react.”
A spokesman for G Décor, which is managing the project, said work began about two weeks ago to repair plumbing and electrical wiring, and remove some interior walls, windows and ceilings on the ground floor in order to turn the building into an interior design showroom.
“I can say we want to keep 99 per cent originality of the whole house, and we only renovated the broken parts because we also love the building styles and quality,” he said.
Molyvann is known as the father of “New Khmer Architecture” and designed many of Phnom Penh’s most famous buildings and landmarks, such as the Independence Monument, Olympic Stadium, Institute of Foreign Languages and Chaktomuk Theatre.
Martin Aerne, architecture professor at the Royal University of Fine Arts, said the Mao Tse Toung building incorporated a range of design features that made it significant, including the concrete “tent-like” roof, innovative floor plan and insulating double-walls.
Aerne said he supported moves to renovate the building.
“Anything that would make it accessible whether it’s a guesthouse or a showroom would be really interesting because it’s a masterpiece in Phnom Penh,” he said.
“It was the place where most of the great projects of the city were created. Downstairs on the ground floor was his atelier workshop and so was actually like the birthplace of lots of milestones in New Khmer Architecture.”
Vann said that his father, now 87 years old, and mother, Trudy, had moved to Siem Reap for health reasons.
“It’s a nicer place for them to live, more quiet. It was too noisy in Phnom Penh,” he said. “It’s also long been a dream for my dad to go to Siem Reap where the temples are.”
He said the building was too big for an elderly couple and was falling into disrepair.
“We went to a solution which is win-win situation. We are sure the building will be kept in a good state and it will be renovated in a way to keep the integrity of the building.
“My parents don’t have the money to do some renovation and now it will be done properly,” he said.