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Talking Khmer architecture

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Tous Sapheoun, the dean of architecture and civil engineering at Paññ?s?stra University, has more than 15 years’ experience in his field. He sat down with Post Property reporter Seun Son this week to discuss the history, rebirth and future of Khmer architecture.

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What is the significance of architecture in the Kingdom, and why did you choose it as a profession?
The architecture and construction field in Cambodia is a main priority and a basic foundation of social development. It has been my favourite subject and skill since I was in short pants. Furthermore, I adore what I believe is part of my national culture. I think Cambodia has a great history in the field of architecture. Look at Angkor Wat: it is a national and world heritage. This makes me proud to be
an architect.

How has Cambodia’s architectural style changed over the years?
Cambodian architecture over the past 10 years has been difficult, as its style is not renowned - it has little national culture behind. I personally think that during Sihanouk’s reign, people left their housing development ideas behind. The people were socially minded. From 1993 onwards, investment in construction has expanded, and housing designs have begun to incorporate Cambodian art better than before, both internally and externally. In addition, there has been a remarkable development in people who have knowledge of architecture and construction.

What do you consider when forming plans for new properties?
Designing buildings demands us to conduct research in culture, nat-ional civilisation and the current market, so that we can succeed in this career. The basic rules in designing my house are locat-ion, inspection, research, sticking to deadlines, the choice of materials, construction techniques and adhering to the standard and styles expected in a Khmer house.

How does Cambodia’s colonial architecture differ from the modern style of building?
If we look at the architecture of today, it is very different from the French era. Cambodians tend to prefer traditional or modern Khmer designs. The current houses are built in accordance with the sun and wind, to maximise ventilation and light in the property, while the colonial-style buildings accommodated the French culture of the time.

When did the Khmer architectural sector grow?
Khmer architecture evolved from one generation to another through the skilfulness of the design. Looking at the Angkor era, Jayavarman VII was a king leading the country toward progress in the architectural sector, when compared with other civilised countries in the world. Also, in the era of King Norodom Sihanouk the architectural sector was reborn, particularly through the achievements of Vann Molyvann, who has left many buildings for next Khmer generation as an example.

What challenges do you face when designing houses?
Of course, when designing buildings you always face challenges, which makes it difficult for Khmer architects, such as issues with the landlords who are not always satisfied with our designs. Also, the law on management of construction and architecture has not yet been drawn up.

What solutions do you have to combat these challenges?
As architects, we must try to understand more about our own culture and the culture of other countries in order to share and gain knowledge. Moreover, the country’s leaders and our own people have to support and value Khmer architects, rather than foreign architects. We should gather all the experienced architects who have knowledge and good
ideas in order to strengthen the architectural sector and make it solid and progressive.

In the coming decade, to what level will the architectural sector evolve?
According to my research and observations, the architectural sector is experienceing remarkable growth year on year. Khmer architects have strengthened their quality and quantities in order to move forward. For this jump, I believe in the coming decade, the real estate and construction sector will be integral to the economy. Government policies are also being developed gradually, opening the door to foreign investors.

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