Beyond Angkor Wat: Cambodia's New Cultural Architecture

The Kingdom of Cambodia has a rich history of Khmer architecture. Built from the latter half of the 8th century to the first half of the 15th century, these structures are embodied by the iconic Angkor Wat temple complex. But new architecture is being built throughout Cambodia, projects that reinterpret culture and tradition to create modern spaces for contemporary life.

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Courtesy of Adobe Stock

Cambodia is located in the southern portion of the Indochina peninsula in Southeast Asia. While the country is mostly known for its religious architecture and Angkorian buildings, these projects have survived because they were built from stone. The builders and sculptors were influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism, and they have distinctive qualities like courtyards, walled enclosures, and a central shrine. Dwellings and residences were typically built from wood, and as such, many have not survived over time. For more public buildings, these were decorated in the style of the Khmer and use the garuda motif.

Courtesy of Khmeresque

By comparison, modern buildings from the 1950s and 60s are known as New Khmer Architecture. The style was created after the country’s independence from France when architects like Vann Molyvann began exploring a new aesthetic. Today, new projects follow a similar approach as they look to rethink vernacular forms and construction techniques. From the country’s capital city of Phnom Penh to more rural sites, the following projects focus on Cambodia’s modern movement with a close relationship to the country’s tropical climate and landscape.

Neeson Cripps Academy by COOKFOX Architects

© David Yeow

The Neeson Cripps Academy is a school for secondary education in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, built for the Cambodian Children's Fund. Located in a neighborhood of extreme poverty adjacent to the site of the former Steung Meanchey garbage dump, the school provides education to 400 of the city's most disadvantaged children, aged 13-18, with a robust English-language program, STEAM curriculum, and globally-connected learning. The school building is conceived in two parts. A long, south wing is composed of open air classrooms and flexible enclosed learning spaces accessed by outdoor walkways. The north wing contains science labs, an art studio, computer lab, film and media room, galleries, multipurpose spaces and administration offices which are conditioned by highly efficient mechanical systems.

Khmeresque by Archium

Courtesy of Khmeresque

Building a temple of Won Buddhism that is based on Mahayana Buddhism in Cambodia, this project considers the relationship between religion and architecture as a whole. In addition to this, the meeting between symbols of the religious buildings and local traditions was something to be considered. The changes of architecture style were integrated with the process of combining religious style with traditions from Hindu to Buddhism. As the main purpose of the temple is religious, it was decided to loosely divide the space between indoor and outdoor areas.

Agriculture Technology Centre by Squire & Partners and SAWA

Courtesy of Squire & Partners and SAWA

A new community Agriculture & Technology center has launched in Krong Samraong, Cambodia, designed as a collaboration between Squire & Partners and SAWA for the Green Shoots Foundation. The development provides education in agricultural technologies to support children and adults in the local community, and facilitates opportunities for enterprise. The masterplan elements are designed to be responsive to the tropical climate – with raised floors to negate flood risk, screens to diffuse sunlight whilst providing ventilation, and overhanging roof eaves for the rainy season – as well as utilizing local resources, labor and skills.

Secondary School in Cambodia by Architetti Senza Frontiere Italia

© Bernardo Salce

Architetti senza Frontiere’s building is a new secondary school in the Roong village, in Takeo province, 50 km south of Phnom Penh, in an agricultural area characterized by a strong industrial transformation. The building designed has dimensions of 62.80 m x 10.20 m, and is placed to one side of the lot. The location of the bathrooms defines the future expansion area of the school that will host educational workshops and divide the open space into two separate courtyards: one for the main game and the smaller one for teaching outdoors. The project was an opportunity to assess the spatial hierarchies within the school building. From a typological point of view, the building presents a classic structure of a linear block with six classrooms distributed by a hallway/porch.

Sihanoukville Community Center by Orkidstudio and StructureMode

Courtesy of Orkidstudio

Using an innovative method of casting concrete in lightweight fabric molds, the architects of Orkidstudio -- along with StructureMode -- teamed up with a group of Khmer women in Sihanoukville, Cambodia to rebuild a community centre in the city’s urban heart. The construction technique was developed and tested by engineers from StructureMode using a combination of physical testing and computer analysis software, Oasys GSA Suite, to predict the stretch of a particular fabric when concrete is poured inside. Through three-dimensional sketches the seamstresses and building team could understand the construction sequence of the form, completing the entire project in just eight weeks.

Sleuk Rith Institute by Zaha Hadid Architects

Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects

ZHA unveiled their design for the Sleuk Rith Institute in Phnom Penh back in 2014. The project was commissioned by the Documentation Center of Cambodia’s (DC-Cam) and was made to serve as Cambodia’s go-to archive for Khmer Rouge history and a leading center for genocide studies in Asia. Five wooden towers, inspired by ancient Angkorian architecture, were made to house the institute’s “cross-section of pursuits,” including a genocide research center, graduate school, museum, document archives and research library. As the towers rise, the structures interweave and link, connecting various departments above the ground level and uniting the institution as a singular whole.

About this author
Cite: Eric Baldwin. "Beyond Angkor Wat: Cambodia's New Cultural Architecture" 05 Nov 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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