Building Cambodia: 'New Khmer Architecture' 1953-1970
Helen Grant Ross and Darryl Leon Collins

Everyone has heard of Angkor Wat, but very few are aware of that other
great flowering of Khmer architectural genius—namely, the New Khmer
Architecture that emerged in Phnom Penh amid the heady national pride
that followed Cambodia's independence from France in 1953. Building
Cambodia documents the tragically short-lived style that resulted in a
spate of striking buildings until its demise amid civil war and genocide
not two decades later. Taking seven years of research to complete, and
packed with rare photographs and illustrations, the 334-page hardback
pays tribute to this remarkable cultural interlude when King Norodom
Sihanouk abdicated the throne to personally oversee a 17-year
construction boom.

Implausible as it may seem amid today's frenetic construction of
soulless apartment blocks and shopping centers, Phnom Penh was dubbed
the "belle of Southeast Asia" in the 1960s, its buildings blending Le
Corbusier-style functionalism with Cambodian artistic traditions. No
other country in the region could then claim architectural standards as
high as those practiced in the Cambodian capital.

Times have certainly changed, and what remains of New Khmer Architecture
is under threat. Its founding father, Vann Molyvann, is now 80 years old
and one has to wonder if his buildings will last as long. While the
great architect's views on the current development of Phnom Penh are
still respectfully listened to, they are seldom acted upon. The hope is
that this beautiful book will not simply be a record of his work and
that of his peers, but an inspiration to future generations of
Cambodians to preserve and evolve an architectural style that has no

—By Kevin Doyle