Sep 21, 2008

Sur les traces de la “Nouvelle Architecture Khmère”

Vann Molyvann, presenting from the Senate’s Chambers he designed in 1966.

Today Vann Molyvann, with assistance from the French Cultural Institute here in Phnom Penh, hosted a tour of four of his major works. I tried signing up for it as soon as I got here (some two weeks before the tour was given) but it was already full. Luckily, I was able to contact the Vanns and Trudy, Molyvann’s wife, offered me a spot in one of their cars. So we toured; a motorcade of two entirely packed buses, at least four cars worth of reporters, two tuk-tuks and countless motos.

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 Training College, the National Sports Complex and the Chaktamouk Conference Center on my own. The tour did present the opportunity to see the Chamkar Mon Compound, Sihanouk’s seat of power which was completed in the mid 1960’s and is still hosting the senate and official receptions. The compound is tightly guarded, as you could guess, and I never would have been able to gain access on my own.

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.”


Grace said...

blog hopping:)

Anonymous said...

I like this photo and article writen by you.