The developing Phnom Penh

Like many other Asian cities, Phnom Penh is growing fast. A rising economy and foreign investment are changing forever the face of its streets – with its good and bad sides.

If it’s your first time in Cambodia you will not have terms of comparison, but everything in this country is changing incredibly quickly. Overall you will be able to see an incredible number of new skyscrapers, massive shopping malls and luxury office or residential buildings.

June will be an interesting month to learn more about these changes. For example the art collective Sa Sa Art Projects is organizing various related activities.

Don’t miss the opportunity to get to know more about Phnom Penh’s architecture and urban development!

Phnom Penh architecture

Koh Pich, also known as Diamond Island, is the perfect place to see the clash of architecture styles and influences in the recent development of Phnom Penh.

History of development

Since the 40’s the city has been growing a lot. The only exception has been the Khmer Rouge period, where the whole population had to leave, turning Phnom Penh into a ghost town.

During the colonial period, the French developed a lot of infrastructure and a comprehensive water system. In particular to prevent flooding, deal with the sewage and conquer land from the river.

In the 60’s after the independence, the new king Norodom Sihanouk appointed the famous architect Vann Molyvann as the head figure of the country’s urban development.Consequently his unique style of modern architecture coupled with a Khmer taste spread along the city. Today you can see some of his works in places such as

  • Olympic Stadium
  • Chaktomuk Conference Hall
  • Institute of Foreign Languages (in the Royal University of Phnom Penh).

Phnom Penh architecture

The Olympic Stadium is one of the most iconic infrastructures in the city (but no, they never organized any Olympic games here!)

After Khmer Rouge, the city kept expanding. An example is the construction of the artificial island Koh Pich (also known as Diamond Island) in front of Phnom Penh’s downtown.

French canal system

As a consequence, the river had to take land from other places to keep flowing and many families had to leave their houses. Other massive updates are the recent filling of lakes, such as Boeung Kak, with sand, for further construction. The French built these lakes as a way to deal with the excess of water during rainy season.  Moreover, the French put in place a complex system of canals and dikes to manage the fact that the whole city is built above wet lands. As a result, nowadays there are more flooding. Thereupon making the relationship between Phnom Penh and its three rivers, Mekong, Bassac and Tonle Sap, more and more difficult.

Art events around Phnom Penh

To have a deeper understanding of the situation, take a look at the different events planned for the next month. Some of them include the Sa Sa Art Projects and Vann Molyvann Project, in the multi-exhibitions “Sensing the Capital” project. It highlights not only the changes in the city’s urbanism but also their consequences in terms of social and environmental impact.

Phnom Penh Architecture

The new space of Sa Sa Art Projects, with its exhibition “Kraanh Norneal”.

Check the “Kraanh Norneal” exhibition in the new space of Sa Sa Art Projects, open until June 18th (on street 350, near the corner with street 95). It exposes contemporary artworks including video,  sculpture, photography as well as digital illustrations. Here you can check the work by Cambodian artists like 

  • Eng Rithchandaneth
  • Mok Sombo
  • Sao Sreymao
  • Sok Chanrado
  • Tan Vatey

The iconic White Building

In their old gallery, check the White Building on Sothearos Boulevard. Here you can follow the process of the city conquering land from the river through its constructions. In particular, the “Genealogy of Bassac” exhibition by Pen Sereypagna. This is also one of the last chances to see the iconic White Building from the inside. Like for many other Khmer building of the 60’s, the demolition of the White Building  is already planned and it will be another victim of extreme construction. 

Between June 21th to 27th, the Olympic Stadium will organise an exhibition namely “The National Sports Complex: Legacy and Vision”.  Particularly showing the history and future of this famous building from Vann Molyvann.

On June 24th, Roungkong Project will organize a walking guided tour to old cinemas in the city.  By all means a unique opportunity to see other pearls from the exquisite Khmer architecture. 

In conclusion, on June 25th, artist Pen Sereypagna will manage a workshop in the new art space Kon Len Khnhom on street 360. This will focus on tracing the evolution of Phnom Penh through its maps from 1940 until now.

Phnom Penh architecture

Sculpture by young Cambodian artist Eng Rithchandaneth, part of the “Sensing the Capital” multi-exhibition project.

Is is definitely a month full of interesting activities to understand the history of the city, its architecture and urban development. So, if you pass by Phnom Penh, make sure not to miss these events. Check Sa Sa Art Projects facebook page for more info!


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