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Khmer-French architect reflects on building Angkor Wat replica

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The Angkor Wat replica displayed in Phnom Penh in 2013. Moeun Nhean

Khmer-French architect reflects on building Angkor Wat replica

Back in 2008, after two decades worth of work researching, measuring and building, a Khmer-French architect completed his dream of designing an accurate, detailed model of Angkor Wat that could be displayed world-wide.

The 67-year-old architect, Ouk Vannarith, and his team were successful in capturing the unique beauty of the temple through the model’s details.

“Our Angkor Wat model was completely built on the panel size with a width of 5.40 meters by 6.20 meters and a height of 0.20 meters. We built it with copper and other special materials true to the richness of Cambodian’s architectural splendor,” Ouk said. “The total weight was 1000 kg compared to the real Angkor Wat temple, which weighs about one million tonnes.”

After completing the model, the next phase was getting it on display so people from all over the world could study the iconic structure. At the same time in 2008, when the Cambodian government was pushing for Preah Vihear to become listed as a World Heritage site, Ouk was trying to get his model approved by UNESCO.

“I brought my letter of proposal to a representative officer of UNESCO in the Phnom Penh office to present our project. They were surprised and excited to see it. Soon enough, in 2008, we put it on display with the help of the Apsara Authority for the first time,” he said.

He and his team rejoiced not only for their model going on display, but also the successful listing of the Preah Vihear temple. These two moments combined made 2008 an unforgettable year for Ouk.

Since that time, Ouk said that the Angkor Wat model has been displayed in Europe at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris in 2010 and the Trocadero heritage museum, which had over 20,000 visitors in the first week the model was displayed. In 2013, the model returned to Phnom Penh and was showcased at the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee.

Ouk, who is currently retired in France, always dreamt of creating a model of Angkor Wat. Through his time working as a professor of architecture at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh in 1998, he continued to work on the project outside of his teaching hours for his own personal fulfillment.

In total, Ouk personally financed the replica, which cost him around $60,000, while he had friends helping him with research and documentation.

“This long, hard project was fueled by my passion and love and respect from my heart to our Khmer ancestors who built this marvelous Angkor temple. Looking back at this project, I really appreciate everyone on my team, friends, students and my teachers. This project may not have happened without their support,” he said.

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