The White Building may have been torn down months ago, but its story is not over yet. After two months of work, nine students from the Liger Leadership Academy will be exhibiting their completed pieces at Meta House today, documenting the past, present and future of the iconic structure and its residents.
Designed by Lu Ban Hap and Russian-born architect Vladimir Bodiansky, the White Building was initially designed as low-cost housing for civil servants. However, in later years it fell into disrepair and developed a seedier reputation, and recently was torn down to make way for a Japanese-constructed residential and commercial complex.
The idea for the project came from Jeff Boucher, a math teacher at Liger, and the experience of one student, Thathiny Tep, 14, who used to live in the building. “[Part of] the idea was born out of [Thiny’s experience] – she’s a former resident. And I thought it was an interesting social-anthropological study of the city . . . [and a way to] study the history and economic growth of Phnom Penh.”
The nine students have each produced a project of their own using various mediums, such as podcasts, videos, short stories, a 3D-printed model, songs and slideshows, with each project covering a different perspective on the building.
“[Although] I decided to do the documentary because I have a lot of experience with filmmaking, it’s still a challenge to me [as] it’s the longest documentary that I have made so far,” said Soliday Yon, 16.
Her short film features interviews with former residents and conversations with government officials and with project developers from Arakawa Co, the firm behind the new complex. It was also difficult for her to reconcile the differing viewpoints on the White Building – from evicted residents to the city planners and developers who ultimately decided to tear it down.
In addition to the works, there will also be a video screening in which the students share their feelings after completing their projects. For most, it was eye-opening to separate the real story of the White Building from its reputation.
“It’s not something people talk about, so we don’t really know a lot about the White Building before the project.” said Kimseng Suon, 13. “But then we learned about the history [and] the community; one of the people we interviewed said that [the White Building] is a vibrant community, which is something that stuck out to me. [To me,] it’s just a building in the middle of the city.”
To Boucher, the learning process is what is important for the students. With just 110 students, the highly selective Liger Leadership Academy provides an alternative curriculum focused on creativity.
“They’re not professional, perfect pieces,” he said. “But they’re very authentic to where the kids are at as a video maker, as a sound editor and as a writer. We’re not trying to share perfected versions of [them] – we want to share who they really are. The emphasis is on the process.”
The exhibition will be held at Meta House today at 6:30pm, with the work to be posted on the Liger Leadership Academy Facebook page.