Category Archives: History

Chenla Theater

Chenla Theater

Chenla State Cinema (now Chenla Theater), Lu Ban Hap with Chhim Sun Fong, 1969

“Chenla theater was built in the mid of 1960, and was abandoned during the Pol Pot war period between 1975 – 1979. After being liberated from the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, it was renamed as “Phnom Penh Theater”.

The theater has now been renovated into a modern international standard facility, and was given a new name “Phnom Penh Cultural Center” prioritized in providing the most elegant and convenient premises in town perfect for all kind of business or social functions.

See photos before the renovation. The renovation of the Chenla theater is funded by Canadia Bank.”

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A Love Letter to the Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium Facebook Page  + Flickr Set

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.

Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium

MTV EXIT Concert at Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium Phnom Penh

MTV EXIT Concert at Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium

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

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.

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).

Earth Explorer Cambodia


Hypothetically this could be really amazing. I’m not doing very well with the website interface though. Here are some images gathered through the site by Aruna Technology of De-Classified 60’s Imagery.

US Bomb Density Map SE Asia

Still searching for the source data used to create the map.

It is commonly quoted that the US dropped more bombs on Cambodia and Laos from 1965-1975 than were dropped on Europe during the entirety of the World World II European Campaign. Still searching for corroborating sources. If true, then that’s a pretty horrific fact.

USGS Earthshots Phnom Penh












Earthshots introduces remote sensing by showing examples of how environmental changes look from space. First-time readers, please start atGarden City, Kansas.

Many images from the Earthshots website and cards can now be download icon downloaded in high-resolution. Still more images are available in the EROS Image Gallery, and at UNEP’s Atlas of Our Changing Environment.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Read the article

LM1135052007300390 (Landsat 1 MSS, 3 January 1973)

LM5126052008534890 (Landsat 5 MSS, 14 January 1985)

Defense Mapping Agency, 1973 (compiled 1968, revised 1973), Operational Navigation Chart K-10: edition 7, scale 1:1,000,000.

1973 mosaic of Cambodia (60 m pixels): See image for individual scene dates. (90 MB)

1985 mosaic of Cambodia (60 m pixels): See image for individual scene dates. (90 MB)

2000 mosaic of Cambodia (60 m pixels): See image for individual scene dates. (90 MB)

2000 mosaic of Cambodia (30 m pixels): See image for individual scene dates. (330 MB)

Preserving Phnom Penh

Lost Visions in a Changing Cityscape
Source: Phnom Penh Post, January 26, 2012
Liam Barnes and Meas Roth

New Khmer Architecture

PHNOM Penh is one of few cities in the region which has successfully managed to maintain an authentic South East Asian city demeanour. Its sprawling boulevards, lined with faded, colonial residences and post-independence style buildings dubbed ‘New Khmer Architecture’ gained Cambodia’s capital the nickname ‘the pearl of Asia’. However, as the 21st century catches up with the Kingdom and Phnom Penh attempts to match the rapid development its neighbours have experienced, its charm, bestowed in this urban heritage, is disintegrating.

By the time it gained independence in 1953, the capital had been transformed from a backwater fishing village into a functioning city with a grid street plan and an array of impressive public buildings and government structures. However, it was not until the late 1950’s that Phnom Penh instated itself as one of Asia’s most dynamic cities.

Buoyed by the enthusiasm of culture-conscious King Norodom Sihanouk, the city’s emerging educated artisans set about modernising the face of the capital as part of the New Khmer Architecture movement spearheaded by Vann Molyvann.

Educated in France, Vann Molyvann returned to Cambodia in 1956, as the country’s only qualified architect. He promptly ascended to the title of chief architect for state buildings and director for urban planning and habitat under which he notably built the previous Office of the Council of Ministers, state palace, National Theatre and Independence Monument, which remains Phnom Penh’s most famous landmark.

These constructions played a significant part in the modernisation of the country’s largest city, according to Deputy Director General of land and habitat management at Angkor Archaeological Park Khuon Khun Neay, who worked alongside Vann Molyvann during the 1960’s.

“He was the first to architect to make Phnom Penh and other provincial capitals the modern cities they are today,” he said, adding that the movement revived the traditional Angkor architecture.

Inspiration for the lotus-shaped Independence Monument, completed in 1960, emanated from Bakong temple, the first royal palace constructed during the Angkor era, said Khuon Khun Neay. Vann Molyvann also incorporated many modern techniques in to his design, particularly within the construction of the National Sports Complex.

“The stadium was designed in the shape of an umbrella, utilising air bricks and maximising shade to reduce heat and direct sunlight inside the complex,” said Khuon Khun Neay, adding that water pools were usually installed to help cool the building and integrate it into the flood plain.

Unfortunately, the original moat built around the stadium is virtually obsolete, with flooding an annual occurrence due to the haphazard development which now surrounds the threatened complex. However, this is not the only Vann Molyvann casualty. In the last six years, the National Theatre, Council of Ministers and Kossomak Polytechnic Institute have all been demolished in the name of progress, according to Stefanie Irmer, whose KA Tours focuses on New Khmer Architecture.

“City planning seems to be exclusively driven by capitalist forces, with land speculation and investment the main factors changing the cityscape,” she said. “Such developments are possible because no classification or protection of New Khmer Architecture and colonial buildings as part of the cultural heritage of Cambodia has been undertaken by government entities.”

There are many ways to promote and protect these sites once there is a consensus that they are equally important parts of the Kingdom’s diverse heritage, such as government entities introducing strategies to classify zones or buildings, she added.

“In the stage Cambodia is at now, the first step needs to be the expression of political will to consider urban heritage and protect it, supported at the time by more private initiatives.”

Investment has started to flood the Cambodian capital in the last decade, resulting in numerous demolitions and almost daily land evictions, paving the way for supposed mega-projects, in order for Cambodia to keep up with its thriving neighbours.

Dr Beng Hong Socheat Khemro, deputy director general at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction believes it is a case of achieving the correct balance between economic pressures and urban preservation.

“In countries such as Singapore and Malaysia, which experienced miracle growth during the 70’s and 80’s, historical architecture was replaced with skyscrapers. However, these governments are now attempting to raise public awareness of the urban heritage,” he said, adding that Cambodia’s lack of human resources made it difficult to inform the public of the significance of certain buildings.

Dr Beng Hong Socheat Khemro added that ideas for an urban heritage pilot preservation project have been voiced in recent years, so far, however, the scheme has failed to get off the ground.

“We have received no funding for the scheme yet, we’re still waiting for an interested donor, but usually they are only interested in rural development,” he said, adding that while conservation laws are in place, they tend to only apply “primarily assets”, such as the Angkor temples.

Irmer highlighted the need for New Khmer Architecture and French-colonial buildings to receive a status not dissimilar from the Kingdom’s revered temples.

“Protection of sites and rules of conservation should not be driven by tourism alone. Vernacular architecture as well as temples, wats and 60’s buildings need to be declared as part of Cambodia’s cultural heritage – this is important to the country’s identity.”

Time: Khmer Rouge in Photos

Three decades after the fall of the regime that managed the torture and death of some two million Cambodians in pursuit of agrarian utopia, the first trial of a Khmer Rouge leader has found Kaing Guek Eav guilty.

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Texas Tech Virtual Vietnam (and Cambodia) Library


“The mission of the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech University is to support and encourage research and education regarding all aspects of the American Vietnam experience; promoting a greater understanding of this experience and the peoples and cultures of Southeast Asia. Its functions are threefold: support for the Vietnam Archive and the collection and preservation of pertinent historical source material; promotion of education through exhibits, classroom instruction, educational programs, and publications; and encouragement of related scholarship through organizing and hosting conferences and symposia, academic, educational, and cultural exchanges, and the publishing of scholarly research.”

They have maps of Cambodia:

Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at UT Austin

Thanks Craig. Good stuff. Source:

The following maps were produced by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, unless otherwise indicated.

Country Maps

City Maps

  • Batdambang (Battambang) original scale 1:12,500, Edition 1-TPC, Series L9010. U.S. Army Topographic Command, 1971 (6.1MB)
  • Kampong Chhnang and Vicinity original scale 1:12,500, Edition 1-DMATC, Series L9010. U.S. Defense Mapping Agency Topographic Center, Pictomap, 1971 (4.4MB)
  • Kampot original scale 1:12,500, Edition 2-AMS (FE), Series L9010. U.S. Army Mapping Service, Far East (3.3MB)
  • [Phnom Penh] Phnum Penh original scale 1:12,500, Edition 3-DMA, Series L9010. U.S. Defense Mapping Agency, 1971 (9.3MB)


Historical Maps

Thematic Maps

Topographic Maps

Milieu + the Déclassés in French Phnom Penh

Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation 1860-1945 Penny Edwards

From Chapter 2: Urban Legend

“By 1888, the administrative elite had formed notions of an underclass of European undesirables who frequented the cafes of Phnom Penh and who cohabited, or conversed with, Cambodians outside the course of official duty, encouraging the grown of a third “class” that blurred colonialism’s neat divisions: the déclassés. This badge of dishonor embraced “social misfits”, young Cambodian women led astray, Cambodian students who had journeyed to France in search of education and returned with new vices and misplaced airs and graces, and what one French administrator referred to as our “most despicable European colonials.”

“These attempts to direct the traffic between Europeans and Cambodians were mirrored on the ground by the construction of new material divisions in the urban landscape, lessening the room for social and cross-cultura maneuver…”

“…crossings between milieux correlated with the fluid movements across Cambodge’s boundaries long demonstrated by the mobility of the Cambodian monkhood in their search for erudition in Siam and farther afield, in Sri Lanka — movement that the government of Indochina was determined to stop.”

“Cartography’s dual abstracting and contraction of Cambodge and neighboring places and people were materialized in microcosm through the construction of culturally and ethnically distinct milieux in Phnom Penh. The concept of “milieux” encompassed climate, disease, hygiene, pestilence, criminality, class and sexualtiy. In the Metropole, policies to contain and police the milieu focused French architects and intellects on social integration in the urban environment.

The demography of the colonies, with their minority white populations, focused architectural, intellectual, social, and medical attention overwhelmingly on issues of racial segregation. In 1906, the future governor-general of Indochina, Pierre Pasquier, noted with alarm that the French office in Indochina sometimes lost his Western outlook and developed “a new mentality close to that of the colonized people, which threatens to destroy his personality and even his morality.” Pasquier exhorted his peers “to conserve all the qualities of [their] race” so as to prevent their absorption by the native milieu.

As a preventative measure against such absorption, late-nineteenth and early twentieth century designs for the new colonial capital in Cambodge included the construction of a French quarter, designed to reinforce the “Frenchness” of its residents.  In turn, legislation and urban planning encouraged the segregation of the diverse “races” of the colonies – Khmers, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indians and Chams – into culturally specific, economically stratified, and racially segregated milieux within which each of these groups could thrive uncontaminated by the degenerative cultural influences of other groups. These milieux, or “quarters,” were built equivalents of cartography’s blind patchwork.

The beginnings of a separate quarter for Europeans in Phnom Penh can be traced to 1866, when, soon after the decision to move the capital there, France’s representative in Cambodge, Doudart de Lagree, advised Europeans to set up their homes near his offices, so as to create a special district. This directive was based more on concern about creating safety in numbers against the new capital’s high crime rate and frequent fires than in elaborate theories of race. However, with the installation of fire hydrants, an improved security environment, and the growth in Phnom Penh’s population, fire hazards were increasingly displaced by racial anxieties and ideas of national difference as the leading preoccupation of urban administrators.”

“By the turn of the century, the capitals segmentation into distinct French, Cambodian, Chinese, and Vietnamese districts had disentangled and ossified the ad hoc arrangements of space and race that had characterized Phnom Penh as well as native-European relations during the first decades of colonial rule. This ruban zoning was compounded by the allocation of resources and the selective use of legislations. An electricity generator provided lighting for the European and central Cambodian quarter, although “shadowy streets” characterized the Cambodian villages of the city’s outskirts, colloquially known as “little Takeo.” Here, under legislation enacted in 1884, Cambodians and Asiatics, but not Europeans, lived under a curfew of light and were not allowed to venture outdoors after 9 p.m. without a lantern.”

“In 1905, the protectorate’s new emphases on providing “comfortable, but simple residences” for Europeans, had led to the design and installation of the first freestanding villas for whites. On the ground, however, prescriptions for a specifically European milieu were hampered by economic realities. Few but the highest-ranking Europeans could afford to live in the European quarter…”