Sep 10, 2008

Teacher Training College, Russian Boulevard. Part 1.

Main Building, Institute of Languages, 1972. Vann Molyvann

So as not to start at the end and give it all away, I will write about Vann Molyvann’s Teacher Training College on Russian Boulevard, his best and last work in Phnom Penh, in several parts. The building was actually inaugurated in 1972 after Vann Molyvann had already left the country for Switzerland, the home nation of his wife Trudy.

The influence of ancient Angkorian Temples is clear in the raised walkways, moats and Barays (pools of water) that cool while retaining storm water, and the monumental entry guarded by concrete Nagas. These buildings also give the clearest indication, however, of Le Corbusier’s influence in Vann Molyvann’s work (more on that later).

The buildings are now the Institute of Languages, part of the Royal University of Phnom Penh, which is kind of the Harvard of Cambodia. Class was in session when I visited, and it was absolutely packed with students. It made me wonder how these buildings survived the Khmer Rouge. I would say, without too much to go on, that more major school buildings have been recently demolished to make way for the heavy development along the Boulevard than during Pol Pot’s rule from 1975-79. At least, I have heard of two that were demolished in the last two years. To be fair, many have been restored to their former glory as well.

Brick is the most common building material in the country. Easy to make, there are literally piles of it everywhere. While concrete was also commonly used by the 50’s, it was the influence of international engineers that would help raise its use in construction to an art form over the course of the development of the New Khmer style. Still, Vann uses brick liberally here, paying homage to a traditional building material while adding a contrasting element to the concrete that helps also to tie all of the wildly different buildings in the Institute together.

The main building, pictured above, is a striking composition of near Brutalist form. Each floor overhangs the one below, giving the building incredible weight, and creating strong shadow lines. The practical purpose is to provide shade for the windows below. Its surface is heavily carved by the big reveals at the louvered openings between brick panels and the vertical louvers that march across the façade in a composition that alternates from one floor to the other. The honey-combed reinforced concrete roof allows for ventilation of the interior spaces, primarily the cavernous interior hall at the heart of the building. Within the hall a grand scissor stair provides circulation to the three levels above, while a big study room carved out of the second floor provides indirect light to the interior.

In addition to this main building, the institute is made up of a bar of small lecture halls and a library which looks a bit like the orphaned volume knob of a stereo. Each will get its own installment.


bellelameg said...

Hey Remy, Great to see that you made it to Cambodia in one piece. Thanks for the entries. Looking forward to talking about this more when you get back.

Anonymous said...

brHello Remy, This is great description of the merits of Molyvann's design. Would love to see more photos of this site. Brenda