Congratulations to Robert Turnbull on his excellent story about the National Theatre.
The interesting aerial photograph shows the clear-cut lines of the theatre standing
before the so-called Olympic village designed by Vann Molyvann to house athletes
as part of the National Sports Complex in 1964. The so-called white building was
designed for municipal staff by the architect Lu Ban Hap, who also built such works
as Chenla Theatre and the Cambodiana Hotel.
As is witnessed by Prince Sihanouk's inaugural speech, the theatre was inaugurated
on 12 November 1968, though construction probably took several years and might have
commenced as early as 1964. De Gaulle came to Phnom Penh in November 1966, not 1964.
Today, it is vital for the performing arts to have a theatre that is at least as
good of a design, if not better, than the Theatre National Preah Suramarit. It is
a tragedy that it was so severely damaged in the fire in 1994, but the reality is
that renovation work of such a scale is likely to cost more than new construction.
Why doesn't the Ministry of Culture organize an international competition for the
renovation or reconstruction of the theatre and the Bassac area? If well organized,
with reasonable prizes for the best projects, this could highlight the plight of
the theatre on an international level and attract funding - unless this public land
has already been sold like so much of Cambodia's state property. Competitions have
been successfully used in many countries as a way of finding creative solutions for
difficult architectural problems.
Helen Grant Ross, Architect - Phnom Penh