Forgive me a moment of sentimentality masquerading as research:
I am completely infatuated with the Olympic Stadium. As an architect, Phnom Penh’s New Khmer Architecture embodies and makes tangible the profound cultural and intellectual loss perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge. The number of people murdered by the regime is staggering, heartbreaking, and as an abstraction, nearly impossible to comprehend.
These buildings echo with the ghosts of unrealized potential, of brilliant work cut short, abandoned, neglected or never built. They are a trace of a Phnom Penh that could have been (and still might be): monuments to the squandered talent which conceived them. As such, they make human and understandable the tragic loss. These were my counterparts, they were me, my friends, my teachers, and my colleagues. Their lives brutally and unjustly cut short.
The power of this absence brings to mind the work of my friend and fellow researcher Jenny French: Representation’s Ghost: Site Visits for Unbuilt Projects which examines the gap left by disciplinarily influential but physically absent architectural works.
Every so often there are rumblings that the Stadium will torn down and redeveloped as condos or a shopping mall or something equally terrible. I very much hope that day never comes.
From the Facebook Page:
The National Sports Complex designed to Olympic standards, was directly commissioned by then Head of State, Prince Norodom Sihanouk himself. Construction began on May 25, 1962 and was completed in some 18 months. It was inaugurated on November 12, 1964 with a crowd of one hundred thousand people. The complex was initially designed for the Southeast Asian Games of 1964. Instead Cambodia hosted the international GANEFO* Games in 1966 and used the stadium to receive international dignitaries visiting Cambodia during the Sangkum Reastr Niyum era (1953/1970).
The complex comprises of a 60,000 seat stadium with sports ground and athletic tracks; an external grandstand for 8000 official spectators, an indoor sports hall for 8,000; restaurants, changing rooms and reception area, 24 outdoor tennis, volley-ball and basketball courts, an Olympic standard swimming and diving-pool with seating for 8,000 and a podium for medal winners and the Olympic flame.
500,000m3 earth was excavated with manpower and ox carts that was heaped up to create the elliptic stadium. The water tanks created by these excavations were necessary to ensure drainage not only of the sports facilities but also for the whole of this low-lying district of Phnom Penh.
The sports complex was linked to housing for 2,000 athletes built on the Bassac riverfront (today Phnom Penh Centre) and to the Water Sport Complex / Yacht Club (turned into the Phnom Penh Casino in 1969, later totally destroyed).
The Sports Complex was lauded in the international architectural press of the 1960s and inaugurated to great acclaim in 1964 as a technical feat and a work of great beauty. It was designed by Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann, assisted by UN expert engineer Vladimir Bodiansky, UN expert urbanist Gérald Hanning, Cambodian architects Mean Kimly, Um Samouth and French architects Claude Duchemin and Jean-Claude Morin, who did all the working drawings and Civil Engineer Wladimir Kandouaroff, responsible for the gigantic earthworks.
* GANEFO = Games of the New Emerging Forces
DESIGN: NEW KHMER ARCHITECTURE
During the Sangkum Reastr Niyum regime (1955-1970) Prince Norodom Sihanouk enacted a development policy encompassing the whole kingdom with the construction of new towns, infrastructure and the highest standard of architecture. Vann Molyvann was the foremost of a generation of architects who contributed to the unique style of architecture that emerged during this era and that has been coined NEW KHMER ARCHITECTURE.
BIO VANN MOLYVANN
Vann Molyvann was born in 1926 in Ream, Kampot province. He trained at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France and returned in 1956 to Cambodia as the first fully qualified Cambodian architect and was appointed Head of Public Works and State Architect by Sihanouk. In 13 years he designed and built over hundreds works, including such famous landmarks as the Chaktomouk Conference Hall, the Council of Ministers, the Teachers Training College, the National Theatre Preah Suramarit, and the Exhibition Hall. In addition to his appointment as Minister of Education and founding Rector of the University of Fine Arts, he worked as a town planner and was also engaged in many social housing experiments. Furthermore he designed some of Cambodia’s embassies and exhibitions abroad. He left Cambodia in 1971 shortly after Lon Nol took power and worked until 1993 for the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements throughout the world. In 1993 he returned to Cambodia where, as President of the Council of Ministers, he obtained the classification of Angkor as a UNESCO World Heritage site and founded APSARA (Authority for the Protection Safeguard and Renovation of Angkor).