Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - White building fades to black

White building fades to black

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Construction workers begin tearing down the White Building in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

White building fades to black

Some view it as iconic, others a deprecit building that has seen better days. However you want to put it, there is no disputing that the White Building, established during King Norodom Sihanouk’s Sangkum Reastr Niyum regime, is unlike any other building in Phnom Penh. As Post Property found out, the impending demolition of the structure has left the community feeling both sad yet optimistic for the future. Built as an experiment in low-cost social housing for the capital, the White Building has been sitting in the heart of Phnom Penh since the 1960s.

Despite, or perhaps because of, its dilapidated appearance, it has developed a reputation as an iconic sight in the city, and was home to businesses, an art gallery as well as hundreds of families.

All 493 families living in the White Building have accepted compensation packages and vacated to make way for a new high-rise.
All 493 families living in the White Building have accepted compensation packages and vacated to make way for a new high-rise. Pha Lina

Yon Davy, a classical and contemporary dance performer who lived in the fourth floor of the building said the White Building would always hold a special place in her heart.

“The White Building was my place of birth. I have many fond memories there and it is a place where I lived with happiness.”

After living in the White Building her whole life, Davy said moving to a new home in the Dangkor District had its difficulties.

“When I first moved in to my new place after the White Building I felt I had lost everything, like my neighbours who I had good friendships with and also the environment we shared together.”

Although the White Building’s aesthetic verges on the decrepit, Davy said its foundations remained solid, expressing sadness that it was being demolished.

“Even though I have left this building, I cannot open my eyes to see the demolition of this building because I will cry out loud,” she said.

In the context of the White Building, Davy expressed disappointment at historic buildings across Phnom Penh being torn down to make way for modern buildings, mostly high-rises.

‘No entry’ signs are now prominantley displayed.
‘No entry’ signs are now prominantley displayed. Pha Lina

“If we keep getting rid of old buildings, it seems like the younger generation won’t have a good understanding about Cambodia’s history so we should preserve old buildings.”

Sambo Manara, a history professor at the Royal University of Phnom Penh and Pannasastra University, said the White Building will long be considered an iconic building for Cambodia going forward.

Discussing the history of the structure, Manara said many parts of the building were destroyed when the Khmer Rouge took control of the Kingdom. While maintenance was later undertaken in an effort to repair damaged areas, Manara didn’t believe the entire White Building remained safe for residents. Even the government had its doubts. Back in 2014, the former municipal governor Pa Socheatvong declared the building unsafe.

“Unfortunately, wars and other issues have made people uninterested in taking care of the building,” Manara said.

While sad at the White Buildings looming disappearance, the professor said he understood the government’s desire to have an aesthetically pleasing city to show off to tourists, and even though the White Building is iconic, he said the beauty of the structure had not been preserved.

“We need to value the development of the new generation and the modern era,” he added.

Sorn Seap, the CEO of Key Real Estate, told Post Property that once the White Building is torn down and replaced with a new 21-storey building to be built by Japanese firm Arakawa Co, the property and land value within the Tonle Bassac area will likely rise, which will have beneficial flow-on affects for development.

The White Building, which will soon be demolished, has been standing since the 1960s.
The White Building, which will soon be demolished, has been standing since the 1960s. Pha Lina

Land within Tonle Bassac is already incredibly expensive, with Seap predicting prices per square metre currently range from $1,500 to $3,500

“The price of land usually only increases here, say between five to ten percent a year,” Seap added.

A representative from Arakawa Co, who didn’t want to reveal his name, told Post Property the demolition of the White Building will be ongoing for the next few months.

“The demolition of the building will take three to four months before construction of the new building starts,” he said.

The 493 families living in the crumbling White Building recently moved out after agreeing to accept $1,400 per square metre from the Land Management Ministry for their apartments. The White Building is now being bordered off for safety purposes ahead of its imminent demolition.

MOST VIEWED

  • Rainsy stopped in Paris from boarding Thai flight

    Airline officials at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport on Thursday prevented Sam Rainsy from boarding his flight to Bangkok ahead of his announced return to Cambodia on Saturday. Prime Minister Hun Sen had earlier in the day assured Phnom Penh residents that there would be

  • Analyst: Rainsy blocked from boarding flight 'an excuse'

    THAI Airways not allowing Sam Rainsy on its route from Paris to Bangkok on Thursday is being used as an excuse to keep his standing among fellow coup plotters and his uninformed supporters as flights to non-Asean countries are available, an analyst said on Friday.

  • Rainsy lands in Malaysia

    Cambodian opposition figure Sam Rainsy arrived in Kuala Lumpur airport on Saturday afternoon after boarding a flight from Paris, where he has been living for more than four years. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesperson Koy Kuong said on Saturday that Cambodia respected

  • Touch: Rainsy will never return

    Sam Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has claimed it has achieved 70 per cent of its struggle to find a solution to the current political situation in the Kingdom. Just before boarding a plane at Charles de Gaulle

  • Sokha continues call for dropping of charge after bail conditions reduced

    Not satisfied with having his bail conditions reduced, allowing him to travel freely in Cambodia, Kem Sokha says he wants his charge totally dropped. “As an innocent man who has been in detention for two years even without being found guilty, I continue to demand

  • MEPs' call for Rainsy's safety not European Parliament position

    The European Parliament said on Friday that a statement by 56 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) calling for guarantees of Sam Rainsy’s freedom and safety should he return to Cambodia did not represent its position. Delphine Colard, the European Parliament’s press officer told