Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - In memory of Zaha Hadid



In memory of Zaha Hadid

The late architect Zaha Hadid. VALERIE BENNETT/SUPPLIED
The late architect Zaha Hadid. Valerie Bennett/Supplied

In memory of Zaha Hadid

Markus Zimmer, secretary-general of the Sleuk Rith Institute.

Today mourners worldwide recall the untimely death of Dame Zaha Mohammad Hadid, an Iraqi-born architect whose global achievements and honours rank her among the world’s most talented.

At the Sleuk Rith Institute – a permanent Documentation Center of Cambodia, we are graced by having managed to enshrine her talent in the institute’s innovative design, which in itself has achieved significant renown, in particular for the uniquely novel approach it takes to architecture conceived to honour the memory of innocent victims.

We pause on this occasion to reminisce how we came to involve her in the SRI and how we introduced her architectural team to Cambodia’s magnificent ancient art and architecture, thereby enabling them to incorporate elements of it into the project design. We lament that because of her untimely passing, we were unable to welcome her to, and to immerse her in, Cambodia’s extraordinary ancient legacy. Here are the details.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
An artist’s impression of the Sleuk Rith Institute. Photo Supplied

Shortly after Youk Chhang, SRI founder and executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) asked me to serve as a member of DC-Cam’s senior advisory team, we discussed his vision of the SRI. He had made inquiries of local Cambodian architects but thought the preliminary proposals did not adequately respond to his vision.

I suggested we secure the services of a world-class architect, and he requested that I make some inquiries. I wrote inquiry letters to two internationally prominent US-based architects, one male and one female, both of whom declined because of existing workloads or interests that had migrated away from buildings.

I then wrote to Zaha Hadid Architects in London, explaining the project and expressing our intent to introduce a new model, one far different from the traditional heavily institutionalised approach that dominated much Western memorial architecture. Youk Chhang bias favoured a female architect because the innocent victims of genocide often include a preponderance of women and children.

We were delighted when Dame Hadid’s firm expressed interest, and we subsequently met with her hand-picked design team in London to commence the design process. At that meeting, Youk Chhang explained the importance of integrating into the design symbolic elements of Cambodia’s wealth of ancient cultural and religious architecture perhaps best symbolised by the extraordinary complex of temples concentrated at Angkor Wat.

We also emphasised the positive values we wanted the design to evoke – healing, justice, reconciliation, and hope for the future. Team members agreed, and a few months later, they travelled to Phnom Penh.

Following consultations, we travelled with the team to Siem Reap, first touring the Angkor Wat complex and nearby temples, then branching out to more distant locations that entailed lengthy trips on asphalt and dirt roads as well as excursions by foot through Cambodia’s jungle to visit a variety of older temple ruins, some of which were near and at Cambodia’s border with Thailand, the Preah Vihear temple.

One of the highlights of the multiday excursion was our visit to Banteay Srei temple, whose central linga Tribhuvanamahesvara signifies “Great Lord of the Threefold Underworld”. Unlike the grand majestic temples that grace Angkor Wat, Banteay Srei is a petite and compact temple, yet the extraordinary detail of its façades, still largely intact, dramatically exceeds that of the larger temple family.

For the design team members, the experience of Banteay Srei added a new dimension to their exposure, one of a miniaturised concentration of artistic beauty rendered with exquisite technical expertise to present a visual feast of religious and cultural symbolism almost unmatched elsewhere in Cambodia and, for that matter, Southern Asia.

Design team members supplanted their visual exposure with drawings and pictures, returning to London having been exposed to an entirely different world and how a gifted and determined people conceived it, now prepared to interpret that experience and conceive, with Dame Zahid’s guidance, what resulted in the design of SRI.

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Hun Sen: Stay where you are, or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that the two-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Kandal provincial town Takmao could be extended if people are not cooperative by staying home. “Now let me make this clear: stay in your home, village, and district and remain where

  • Businesses in capital told to get travel permit amid lockdown through One Window Service

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration has issued guidelines on how to get travel permission for priority groups during the lockdown of Phnom Penh, directing private institutions to apply through the municipality's One Window Service and limit their staff to a mere two per cent. In

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Ministry names types of business permitted amid lockdown

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training singled out 11 types of business that are permitted to operate during the lockdown of Phnom Penh and Takmao town, which run through April 28. Those include (1) food-processing enterprises and slaughterhouses; (2) providers of public services such as firefighting, utility and