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The rising star of Cambodia’s skyline

Hun Chansan accepts a golden trophy at the 2018 Cambodia Property Awards on Friday.
Hun Chansan accepts a golden trophy at the 2018 Cambodia Property Awards on Friday. Moeun Nhean

The rising star of Cambodia’s skyline

A young architect is winning praises for his innovative designs and efforts to raise the profile of Cambodian architects and designers.

Hun Chansan is the face of a new generation of young Cambodian architects whose sleek and innovative designs are transforming the Kingdom’s city skylines. At 38, the young architect has already built a towering reputation to match his expansive portfolio of concept designs, which includes Lumiere, Villa Town and the award-winning Noro Mall.

His latest accolade was announced at the 2018 Cambodia Property Awards last week, where he received the prestigious Cambodia Real Estate Personality of the Year award.

Born and raised in Phnom Penh during its tumultuous post-civil war period, Chansan’s parents decided to send him to Singapore to finish high school. It was there that his passion for architecture and design first emerged.

“Every night I would sit in the school’s dormitory and sketch,” Chansan recalls. “One day one of my teachers approached me and said he’d noticed that I was constantly drawing and exhibited great patience, so he advised me to pursue architecture as my major when I entered university.”

Hun Chansan at his design firm’s office in Phnom Penh.
Hun Chansan at his design firm’s office in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

Chansan, then 19 years old, followed his instructor’s advice, though he jokingly admits that at the time he “didn’t really know what it was that architecture majors studied”.

After high school he went on to study in the United States at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, earning a bachelor’s degree in fine art in architectural design in 2006. He then went on to complete a master’s degree in architecture at Northeastern University in Boston.

When Chansan returned to Cambodia in 2009 he was struck by the immense changes taking place in the country – not only the speed at which new buildings were going up, but also the mindset of the Cambodian people regarding their design.

“Architectural design was not valued before in Cambodia and most construction owners just did whatever they pleased, including designing the front and interiors of their own buildings,” he said. “But now thanks to rising incomes and more exposure to modern architecture, attitudes are changing and people are hiring professionals to design their house or building.”

Chansan, 32 at the time, found work and a chance to continue pursuing his passion for architectural design as a lecturer at universities in the capital. Two years later he put theory into practice, starting up his own architecture firm, Re-Edge Architecture + Design.

One of his company’s earliest projects was the concept design of Galaxy Residence on the Chroy Changva Peninsula. It was also behind the designs of River Landmark, Villa Town, Chea Residences and Lumiere hotel, as well as the new head office of ABA Bank that was inaugurated earlier this month.

But Chansan, who continues to lecture at universities, said beyond his professional work one of his priorities is to help shape the next generation of Cambodian architects.

“During my six years and going into our seventh year of Re-Edge, I have learnt to fill in the gap,” he says. “That means to be a leader and mentor, an inspiration, and something that gives people hope and energy to move forward.”

He said the proliferation of new buildings and improving living standards is helping to develop architectural skills in Cambodia and giving the profession newfound respect. But ultimately, Chansan says, his goal is to elevate the respect people have for architects to the same level given to doctors and lawyers.

And while he is impressed with the building projects that are redefining the Cambodian skyline, Chansan said it is important to recognise the country’s unique cultural heritage and adapt it to innovative, modern designs.

“Preserving our national identity is an important endeavour so as Cambodian citizens we must participate in this together,” he said.

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