May 18, 2009
Sep 24, 2008
Sep 23, 2008
The classrooms themselves are studies in how to make a space that perfectly lends itself to focused study. They are relatively small, probably able to accommodate about 35 students. The vertically louvered sidewalls glow with natural light while blocking the view to outside distractions. The glazing itself is constructed of operable louvers, allowing for the room to be naturally ventilated. The light cannons at the roof, similar to those in the main building, once focused the light onto each lab desk. But when the function of the rooms changed a false ceiling was installed allowing for florescent lights and ceiling fans. That's progress. I should note that no lights were on while I was there, but despite M. Vann confounding direct sunlight at every turn, each space was lit perfectly to compliment its use.
The classrooms are connected by a hallway which has a masonry screen wall on one side that is unglazed and open to the air. Opposite the pods, the hall is lined with more conventional classroom spaces. Still, they are lit by a louvered wall and skylights which employ sculptural concrete sunscreens to reflect the sunlight to the interior. These reminded me of the technique Renzo Piano used at his Cy Twombly Gallery in Houston, some 25 years later.
The complex of buildings at the Teacher Training College are composed around a central courtyard. Sitting within it is a beautiful old tree with an incredibly wide canopy that drips with Spanish Moss. I think that the tree has to be older than the 35 year old campus, meaning that the buildings were composed around it. The lesson here, working with the existing to make a meaningful place, doesn't need to be spelled out. But it is a lesson that those currently building Cambodia need to learn.
Sep 21, 2008
Vann Molyvann, presenting from the Senate’s Chambers he designed in 1966.
Today Vann Molyvann, with assistance from the French Cultural Institute here in
It was not, truthfully, the best way to see his work, moving through buildings in a mob of almost one hundred people, trying to hear M. Vann’s comments as he struggled to use the megaphone. Luckily I had toured the Teacher’s
The spectacle of the tour itself was fascinating. Even though Vann Molyvann is often described as a national hero, you get the sense that this intense interest in his work is a new development. M. Vann is predictably pleased. When Trudy was telling me how unhappy he was when his buildings were being destroyed to make way for new development, she said “He wasn’t saddened because they were his. He was upset because no one noticed.” Not to say that his structures are not still threatened. He thinks that the National Sports Complex’s days are numbered, saying that the land it is sitting on is simply far too valuable for the government to miss an opportunity to cash in. There is also the feeling that the destruction is politically motivated, with Prime Minister Hun Sen doing everything he can to erase any positive traces of Sihanouk’s reign.
As we walked I asked Trudy what she thought would be the best way to ensure that this valuable architectural legacy be maintained. She shook her head. No matter what you do, she said “Hun Sen is a man who is capable of changing his mind.”
Sep 20, 2008
The roof of the indoor stadium is a true feat of Engineering. It is built from four giant reinforced concrete umbrellas, each structurally independent, each spanning nearly 90 feet. In the view above you see one of the four pillars supporting the deeply coffered concrete ceiling, and the daylight in the space between the umbrellas. Vann Molyvann uses a number of different techniques to block direct sunlight from entering the space. The bleachers are open to the outside, and light filters in from the evenly spaced openings between them. The exterior cladding is made up of extruded aluminum v-sections that interlock to reflect the light to the interior. The effect during the day of these softly glowing verticals and the points of light at the seating is really pretty spectacular. The coffers provide a nice home for bats, too, which made sitting at the top level of the bleachers a bit uncomfortable, for me at least.
Originally built for the Southeast Asia Games in 1963, which were later canceled, the stadium became a political focal point for the country. Its very construction was a symbol of
It follows, then, that Vann Molyvann would take this occasion to express most clearly his ideas for fashioning a distinctly Khmer style from the modern architecture he admired. The Khmer are proud of the ancient wats at
80,000 people can watch an event at the stadium. The Palace itself nests outdoor seating with the indoor stadium where boxing, basketball and volleyball events can be held. Despite there being few organized sporting events, these facilities are still being used today. Badminton players use the outdoor courts, the swimming and diving pool is teaming with jubilant kids, kites were being flown from the upper bleachers, and there were a few runners on the track. The stadium served a nation that changed drastically after the Khmer Rouge regime, one that exhibited a forward thinking which seems to no longer exist here. But when Phnom Penh was repopulated in 1979 doubtless these facilities, as well as others built as part of the New Khmer Architecture movement, served as invaluable benchmarks for regaining some sense of the society that was lost.
Sep 19, 2008
Library, Teacher Training College, 1972. Vann Molyvann.
This is the embodiment of the idea that the structure become integral to the look of the building, as here the columns are ribs that ring the exterior, with the glazing layer set inside from them. The ground floor is mostly offices set into the core of the circular building, with a curving stair that runs along the inside face up to the second level which houses the library. The ceiling is as sculpted as the exterior structure, allowing you to understand the radial roof form which is imperceptible from the outside. Van Molyvann intended that you could enter the library directly from the second level catwalks that ring the campus, but the entrance which is pictured above is now kept locked. It’s a good thing, as the entry sequence, from the darker and more confined lobby and stair up to the light-filled and airy reading room is effective.
Vann Molyvann himself has said that he based the design of the Library on a traditional Khmer straw hat. This sounds suspiciously like post-rationalization to me and his architecture doesn’t need to be rationalized; it stands as a work of art on its own. This work, in particular, is singular. There aren’t any “typical” New Khmer Architecture details, any real references to the stuff that was being built in the city in the 1950s and 60s, or as far as my untrained eye can see any overt references to the ancient temples. For one of his final buildings in