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With the right mix, architects build new community center

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Using organic materials, a UK-based architecture company builds a new community center in Sihanoukville. Lindsay Perth/ Supplied

With the right mix, architects build new community center

Amidst a series of two-storey buildings in the urban heart of Sihanoukville stands a single one-storey community center constructed with fabric and concrete; a result of the collaboration between Orkidstudio and Bomnong L’Or.

Realizing how the original Bomnong L’Or (Goodwill) Center was poorly ventilated with inadequate lighting, the team sought out to reconstruct the building using a more environmentally friendly measure by reducing timber usage in response to the deforestation in Cambodia while also conveying an architectural message of “strength”.

Tom Woodward, project coordinator of Orkidstudio, explained, “The fabric was used as a formwork to contain the concrete whilst it was poured but not set. Once the concrete had hardened, the fabric was then taken off and washed, before being reused as a cladding.”

Unlike the previous center, the new building is raised up off the ground to utilize the seasonal winds off the Gulf of Thailand. To ensure that the building stays cool all year round, Woodward said the team employed a variety of passive techniques such as shading external walls with the roof and “using modern insulated roofing sheets that prevented heat from building up.”

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Architects team up with locals to build the new centre. Lindsay Perth/Supplied

In the search for affordable, green, and quality housing, the building is a combination of traditional Khmer housing and modern construction technologies. Woodward said, “In particular, we placed great emphasis on communicating how we had utilized passive design principles to ensure the building remained cool without relying on energy-intensive air conditioning units.”

To make sure that the building is durable, a two-step approach was adopted into the construction.

“The fundamental frame consists of a heavy concrete and steel construction that is incredibly durable, whilst the fabric and bamboo merely act as infill material, creating a sense of enclosure whilst allowing ventilation and light into the space,” said Woodward.

“Accepting the susceptibility of the fabric to the elements, we designed the panels to include zips, in order that they can be removed and washed or replaced when needed.”

For eight weeks in July and August, a team of 25 people, including local men, women, and those with a lack of skills were able to pull off the project.

With a total floor area of 240 square metres, the center consists of four classrooms, an IT room, a library, a soap-making facility, and can accommodate over 100 students at any given time; a “50 per cent increase on the previous facilities,” according to Woodward.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
At 240 square metres, the project totalled $72,000. Lindsay Perth

Jennifer Hoggett, manager of Bomnong L’Or, said, “We run daycare, education (for adults and children), provide basic healthcare and treatment costs, nutritional support and run a soap-making scheme with some of the women in the area.”

In addition to its education programme, it also provides food packages to some of the poorest members of the local community and runs a social enterprise programme providing employment for local disadvantaged women through the production and sale of natural soaps.

The construction cost of the new Bomnong L’Or Center was $300 per square metre with a total cost of $72,000.

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