Olympic Stadium at Nerd Night Phnom Penh

Olympic Stadium Phnom Penh from Shelby Doyle on Vimeo.

Nerd Night Presentation:

Historic Images + Photos Source:
Grant Ross, Helen and Darryl Leon Collins. Building Cambodia: ‘New Khmer Architecture’ 1953-1970 Bangkok: The Key Publisher, 2006. amazon.com/Building-Cambodia-Khmer-Architecture-1953-1970/dp/B000UE7PJK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1307899881&sr=8-1

Contemporary Photos Source:
Shelby Elizabeth Doyle


Slide 1

Tonight, I’m going to share with you the story of the construction of the Olympic Stadium here in Phnom Penh, show some photos of how it looks today and show why I think its worthy of Nerdiness. If you have NOT been to the Stadium then the goal of this presentation is to convince you to go see it. If you have been then hopefully this will only renew your appreciation for its awesomeness.

Slide 2

As most of your probably already know the Olympic Stadium is located north of Sihanouk Boulevard. However, less well known is that the Stadium was built as part of a larger master plan – including housing for an Olympic Village and a Water Sports + Yacht Club – both located near the riverfront. 

Slide 3

The now demolished Water Sports Complex was once a boat and waterskiing club, it was home to several piers, a bar and a restaurant. The Olympic Village contained athlete housing and was once home to the National Theater – since demolished, The Gray Building – now the Phnom Penh Center and The White Building – which remains although almost unrecognizable – at the end of Street 294.

Slide 4

Construction of the Stadium was commissioned by Norodom Sihanouk and began in 1962. Cambodia was scheduled to hold the 1963 Southeast Asian Games. However, Jakarta stole Phnom Penh’s moment of glory by hosting a non-aligned version of the Olympics known as the World Games of the New Emerging Forces.

Slide 5

The stadium designed by Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann – shown here and assisted by UN engineer Vladimir Bodiansky, UN urbanist Gérald Hanning, and a team of Cambodian, French and Soviet architects and engineers. Teams here in Cambodia and in France worked on many of the construction drawings.

Slide 6

The design team’s concept was to create a building at the intersection of water and earth. Here are some of the original sketches comparing the stadium to Angkor Wat – the design was built in a style known as New Khmer Architecture which combines modernist design principles with Khmer architecture elements.

Slide 7

The site plan is organized along cardinal axes. One sixth of the original site plan was devoted to reservoirs and water treatment – everything shown here in blue. The stadium seating is carved from a man made grassy hill constructed of 500,000 cubic meters of earth.

Slide 8

The site chosen was then a wetland and the ground so damp that initially oxcarts were used to move excavated earth.  The first bulldozer used on the site, gradually began to sink – when the driver realized what was happening he hopped out – and the bulldozer – disappeared completely beneath the mud. It is likely still there today. I’ll buy you a beer if you find it.

Slide 9

The complex was completed in an astonishing 16 months. Outdoor Stadium could seat 70,000 people. The Indoor Stadium seated another 8,000. The swimming and diving pools seated 4,000. There were also eight tennis courts and 16 volleyball and basketball courts. You can see Boueng Kak Lake in the background.

Slide 10

At the opening ceremonies Norodom Sihanouk said: ‘…we have proved our capacity to transform our ancient kingdom into a modern nation.” And the the nationalist publication Neak Cheat Niyum wrote that “…(the stadium) should be seen not simply as a meeting place for sport but as a symbol of Cambodian rebirth”

Slide 11

So present day. Here are some reasons why I think the stadium is still amazing… the entire thing is built into a man made hill and – the seating, which was made of precast pieces -incrementally installed to stabilize the earth below and direct water into a trough surrounding the track – once a part of an intricately calibrated waterworks.

Slide 12

To the west side of the stadium is VIP seating – shaded by the same roof that extends to cover the indoor stadium. You can see it here with the white concrete boxes. Adjacent to the seating is the press box – you can see it here to the left of the roof. Structurally it does a few interesting things.

Slide 13

The first is that it cantilevers off a single beam – which is integrated with both a set of stairs and I don’t know if you can see but on either side is a water channel for drainage. The design allows for two things – one unobstructed views for the press and two the small structural footprint means that only a few spectator seats are lost to the press box.

Slide 14

The indoor stadium is designed as a box resting on the sets of surrounding stairs which are designed as the actual structural support of the courts and seating inside. Below is a network of water collection pools. The interior is accessed by passing over the water through a series of pedestrian bridges which also form a sort of indoor track loop.

Slide 15

Inside the court is a naturally ventilated – keeping the courts cool – and light is filtered through a series of intricate concrete screens. Although it makes for tough afternoon playing conditions on the court but I think its still one of the most photogenic spots in the city.

Slide 16

Opposite and on axis to the east are a trio of umbrella canopies – which shade the pool seating below – they span 34 meters from two center columns – impressive engineering even by todays standards and taper to an almost impossible thinnes – and if you look closely the trace of the original wooden formwork for the concrete can still be seen on the underside of the canopies.

Slide 17

Invisible from the stadium rim the swimming and diving pools are tucked behind the food vendors and on the other side of a wall – the pools are accessed by descending the seating.The complex contains a regulation swimming pool – 8 – 50 meter lanes and a 1, 3, 5 and 10 meter diving board – and apparently once also hosted water polo matches.

Slide 18

So if the architecture isn’t selling you then maybe the hundreds of sports you can play at the stadium will – many for free or a small fee – everything from tae kwon do, to gymnastics, to soccer, to badminton, to petanque, to some amazing volleyball and if those aren’t your speed then there is always sunset jazzercise.

Slide 19

And if sports aren’t your thing – then maybe music will convince  you – the stadium is still the largest outdoor music venue in the city recently hosting December’s MTV Exit Anti-Trafficking concert. Who can argue with 40,000 screaming teenagers?

Slide 20

So that’s all I have. I find the stadium a reminder of the creative potential here in Phnom Penh and it remains one of the best outdoor spaces and buildings in the city. Here is a shot of my favorite detail at the stadium – you’ll have to email me and let me know if you find it. Thank you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: