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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Building gamble puts casino on shaky ground, experts say

Building gamble puts casino on shaky ground, experts say


NagaWorld denies cracks in building’s interior are structural, but experts say foundations not deep enough to support 14-storey hotel and casino


Experts claim that Cambodia’s inadequate building regulations have left the NagaWorld complex on shallow foundations.

Experts fear a culture of cost-cutting is undermining the quality of some of the city's newest structures as developers build in a vacuum of regulations and construction industry standards.

Sam Maity, the construction team manager at Runs and Walks Co, a consultancy firm that works with several South Korean developers, singled out the NagaWorld casino complex, saying the recent addition of new floors had taken the development beyond the load-bearing capacity of its foundations.

"NagaWorld originally did not plan to build 14 storeys," Sam Maity said. "They've overloaded the foundation, causing some areas to crack."

He said Nagaworld's foundations were just 14 metres deep, but a soil analysis recently completed by Runs and Walks in the adjacent block showed bedrock there did not start until 40 metres.

"The NagaWorld foundations should have been between 35 and 40 metres deep, not 14 meters," Maity said.

The casino and hotel complex is located along the riverfront in Phnom Penh's Tonle Bassac area. The area was reclaimed from the river, meaning the surface soil is soft.

But Steve Cheng, general manager at NagaWorld, refused to reveal the technical details of the building's structure, adding he "was not sure how deep the foundations were".

An extension of the complex was almost complete, he said, but acknowledged the opening had been delayed as the company was fixing refurbishing defects such as "cracks in the paintwork".

Most clients don’t want to spend money on the proper soil investigations.

He denied the cracks were structural. "We meet the structural requirements of Cambodia," Cheng said.

A new Australian embassy being built in an adjacent plot has piles 60 metres deep, according to one of the building's designers. "Structurally it is entirely sound," said Thomas Zazworka, who now works at ATTA Structural Engineering & Consulting, adding that the embassy was similar in its load to a large three-storey villa.

Money worries

"The issue is - and it's not only here in Cambodia - that most clients don't want to spend money on the proper soil investigations," Zazworka said, adding that even if the soil report showed deeper foundations were needed, many were  reluctant to spend the money.

"In Europe we have rules, but here we don't," he added. "Whether or not a client goes about things the right way depends on how much money they want to spend. Clients here generally want a structure put up as quickly and cheaply as possible."

Because Cambodia has no set building code, builders and architects have the discretion to follow any other recognised international standard, or ignore standards altogether.

Andre Van Bijsterveld of Royal Haskoning Group Cambodia, an engineering consultancy, said Cambodia needed to develop a proper building code referencing recognised international standards.

"The quality of the building depends on how much the owner wants to spend; it depends if they want to stick to international standards or if they just want to build a building," he said. "Nobody is going to check if you save money by lowering safety standards. You can do whatever you like, no one cares."

The 32-storey Canadia Tower may also be suffering from structural problems,   with inadequate preparation causing basements to flood.

"There is no doubt the Canadia Bank building has some problems," Thomas Zatzworka said. "I was in there recently, and the whole basement is a swimming pool."

Charles Vann, the executive vice president of Canadia Bank, said there were "no problems that he knew of" and that the new building was on schedule to open at some time after July. He said that no date had been set for the opening, though the bank's website indicates it is targeting September 9 this year.

Zatzworka said that problems arose depending on who was in charge.

"Take two structures: The [Gold Tower 42], independently built by South Koreans, adhering to South Korean standards; it's safe. And then you have the Canadia Bank, designed by Thai company PBL but built by local Cambodian contractors. Two buildings built to two different standards," he said.

Im Cham Rong, the general director of the Department of Construction within the Ministry of Land Management, said the private sector needed to be responsible for its own developments until such time as the ministry could develop a building code.

"We are trying to implement standards, but we don't have enough human resources," he said. "I think the private sector, the buildings' owners and the construction companies have their own responsibilities about any problems that occur with a buildings construction.

Im Cham Rong said he was not familiar with any specific buildings with structural problems in Phnom Penh.



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