Seeking opportunities in developing cities, Japanese architecture design firm CocochiCam Designs, set up in Phnom Penh in May.
With a staff of five Cambodian designers, the company started out working on small projects at Aeon Mall. The firm had soon expanded its clientele to include condominiums, a shopping mall in Siem Reap and even designs for modern factories.
The Post sat down with Toshishige Kawauchi, CEO of CocochiCam Designs, this week to discuss Cambodian-influenced design and the challenges he faces selling the company’s work.
What drew you to Cambodia in the first instance?
In May, I came here and decided to establish my architectural design company here.
I have my own objectives, I wanted to educate young Cambodian people in the study of architectural design and have them make their own designs for Cambodian buildings. Today, there are many Chinese or Korean designs, but those buildings are designed by Chinese or Korean designers, without input from young Cambodians.
Young Cambodian people are very positive thinkers. I try to teach young designers to build their confidence in their work, so that they can pass on their ideas to other young people.
It was difficult to get things up and running in the beginning, because there was not a lot of work. But luckily Aeon Mall was near opening, so we started with very small shop designs. Now we have many more clients, about 50 per cent Japanese and 50 per cent are Cambodian clients.
How do you position yourself in the market or how are your designs different?
There have been many great designers in the past in Cambodia, like Mr Vann Molyvann, he has designed many buildings in Cambodia, in the traditional Cambodian style. Today, there are many new designs in Phnom Penh, but they are very different. Not many incorporate traditional Cambodian designs or the Cambodian way of life. I believe that the classic designs need to ask: what is the traditional way of life in Cambodia? And how can we include this in our designs? The building should demonstrate the Cambodian way of life; about the country; the Khmer style – regardless if the building is modern or a classic.
This is how I encourage my Cambodian staff to think. I want them to make it happen within the design. I combine this with my own ideas – the Cambodian lifestyle with the Japanese concepts of design.
What have you found are the challenges in the industry?
In Phnom Penh, the biggest problem, when it comes to design, is the vision: to create an ideal image for the future of the city. If you have a vision for the look of the city, design can be guided by this vision.
The designers, the developers and even the businesspeople need a vision to guide them. But at the moment they don’t have this vision, they don’t have clear planning for the city. So many developers come to Cambodia and they do what they want. There are many buildings built in different styles, which ruins the image of the city.
The environment in which people live is so important for Cambodia. Cambodian people need to live in that city, and the environment affects the way people feel.
The environment can motivate people to be passionate about their city, and be proud of their country. And people need to contribute and help build their own environment.
What are some of the current projects your team working on?
We are working on shopping mall projects, condominium and some planning for the special economic zone in Laos.
Is it profitable?
We don’t have the profits at the moment. When you’re in the business of design, you’re dealing with the soft part of the design. It takes time for people to understand the value.
How do you change that?
There is only one way people can understand design, when they see it and they believe that they will get something from it. The design cannot be seen through words, people need to see the image; it affect’s people when they see it.
In developing countries, they don’t want to pay the money for the soft part of the service.
It is difficult, but people need this knowledge while their country is developing, spreading the knowledge by the time their own country is developed in the future.