Sep 18, 2008

National Bank of Cambodia

Central Bank Branch in Sihanoukville, left, Staff Housing, right. Vann Molyvann, 1968.

Sihanoukville, planned (if not executed) by Vann Molyvann, is also home to two of his better works. Perhaps because of their distance from the better known buildings in Phnom Penh, M. Vann’s National Bank of Cambodia Branch and his St. Michel Church are not high on the Molyvann canon. However, they were well worth making the trip down south for.

Because the paper notes for Cambodian Currency were made in France and shipped over, it made sense to build the central bank branch for the Cambodia Bank close to the shipping ports. The story goes that when the Khmer Rouge took over the port they attempted to blow up the bank but could do nothing but damage the vaults. They had been designed too well, modeled after the construction of Swiss Banks. However, the blasting left the foundations unsound, and before the bank could be up and running again, extensive repairs had to be executed some time in 2000.

The most striking element of the bank is the huge roof top pergola, a sculpted form made from reinforced concrete. From the ground it looks like it is the roof of a set back upper story but in fact, characteristic of New Khmer, it is raised off of the actual roof of the building, protecting it from the sun and providing a shaded outdoor space accessible from the top floor. It is most probably the largest example of this kind of pergola in the country.

The bank is actually part of a complex of houses and apartments for bank workers. Here again we see Vann Molyvann incorporating traditional Khmer ways of living in a modern home. The exterior brick wall breaks down to become a screen where there is an interior courtyard. The expressive roof form slopes to a gutter that runs along the centerline of the house.

If Architecture represents the triumph of man over wilderness, order over disorder, often it seems that in Cambodia the architecture gets lost in that battle. This is not true of the Bank Complex. Its buildings are composed of sharp geometries, its grounds carefully manicured, and sitting up on a hill overlooking the beach it could not be further from the motos buzzing Sihanoukville’s streets. It was an oasis on a trip where often the senses are overloaded by stimuli.

1 comment:

Rembee said...

the way that the forms and shapes of the roof, gutter, etc. of the home hold each other is amazing.

I also like the way that you can see the white finish of the wall through the brick work and the way that the stone of the foundation slips between the faces of the brick facade. Beautiful!