THE rapid pace of development in Cambodia in recent years has led to an unprecedented period of building activity.
Outside events have resulted in a temporary lull, but the country is still facing a major shortage of building stock, so a full resumption cannot be far away.
The slow period is in some ways opportune, giving architects and urban planners a chance to reflect on where the recent spate of building has taken the country. They need to ask themselves if it is heading in the right direction. If they are honest with themselves, they will conclude that it is not.
Too few of the people who have been given the opportunity to shape Cambodia's built future are taking seriously the responsibility that goes with it. Nowhere is this responsibility more needed than in the area of sustainable building and design.
Whether it is a shophouse in Pochentong or a resort project on one of Cambodia's islands, ill-conceived and badly-designed projects can produce negative environmental effects now and for the future.
In Cambodia today, the emerging middle class is rapidly adopting Western consumption patterns, swaying popular ideals of good design and encouraging developers to think in terms of short-term reward at the expense of long-term sustainability.
They are racing to build monuments to progress with little regard for sustainability and end use, as they try to keep costs down in a market where demand, and hence the return on investment, is uncertain.
This quick-turnover, high-profit mentality still stands as a roadblock to the implementation of strategies for sustainability in Cambodia.
Contrary to popular opinion, going green doesn't have to mean
But, contrary to popular opinion, going green doesn't have to mean going broke.
In developing economies, combining traditional architecture with appropriate technology is the soundest platform for sustainable development. Unfortunately, the term "appropriate technology" carries with it the stigma of high capital cost.
This is a dangerous misconception, as it is a gross oversimplification to say, as people so often do, that a sustainable design will add 10 to 15 percent to the cost of development.
This logic comes from addition thinking, whereby developers ask how much it will cost to modify a designed office building, house or school to include, for example, convection-powered ventilation. Addition thinking is entirely the wrong approach. Sustainable design needs to be based on a clear briefed concept and a value system dictated by the client.
Committing to sustainable design at the very earliest project stage is fundamental to the achievement of a successful sustainable building.
Design considerations such as building orientation, materials, insulation, ventilation and wastewater management all affect the building's sustainability and should be factored into the design prior to consideration of "add-on" energy efficiency and energy generating technologies.
Doing so significantly increases the economic viability of a sustainable project. But because planning procedures remain underdeveloped and underrated in Cambodia's relatively young design environment, the perceived time/cost component of substantial pre-project planning counts against this approach.
Cambodia has a unique opportunity to avoid the mistakes of the Western world as it develops. This requires that serious-minded planners, architects and designers challenge the prevalent short-termist approach to development and champion innovation to help communities live not only sustainably, but also to a higher standard.
This also needs to be supported at the national level through effective regulation and enforcement.
Those responsible for building Cambodia's future have an extraordinary opportunity to use sustainable building techniques to change the way we live for the better and improve the prospects of the generations that are going to follow.
Simon Wright is managing director of
design and architecture consultancy Artitech.
Should you wish to contact Simon,
please send an email to [email protected].