People living along the Mekong River

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This afternoon, I went to Kandal province to interview people living along Mekong river. I drove motor across Chruoy Changva bridge and turning right to take the ferry to the other district called Khsach Kandal. My friend and I were driving through two villages called Svay Chroum and Bar Chum.

At there I interviewed a farmer who plating corn and cucumber by using water from the river. I also interviewed people who stored the water for treatment to sell to the people living there.

He said that the water helped him alot. He pumped it around 200 cubic meter per day.

The fishermen said that now the water is not plentiful of fish like before. Last year he can fish around 1 ton of fish per day, but now only 200 to 300 kilograms of fish.

The village chief said most people do farming and fishing for their life. The use the water for planting, daily consumption and for drinking by boiling it.

She added that before some people drink the water directly but now they have clay filters to treat the water.

She said that this year the water is not much like before making the lack of fish.

However, people said that because of the dams which lead to the decline of water.

Unfortunately, I did not go to Koh Dach and Koh Okhna Tey since it takes time and I do not have much time.

Architect Profile of Chea Bunseang

By SUN Narin

MOST Cambodian people do not highly value their country’s architects and feel that they do not have the expertise and ability to design a special and striking building.

To challenge this perception, young professional architect Chea Bunseang has been making great efforts to show to Cambodians and indeed an international audience what he can achieve through the latest modern drawing and design techniques and concepts.

Bunseang, at 35, has already contributed to the planning of some important Cambodian buildings, having been born with a talent for drawing, a strong commitment to invention and innovation, and a realisation of the impact buildings can have in a modern society.

He is now a formidable architect and lecturer, has a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture and Urban Planning, Masters Degree of Science in the field of Urban Environmental Management; has traveled widely, worked for the United Nations in East Timor and with an international architectural firm in New York.

In early 2009, he was asked to help  local construction company Ly Chhoung Co. erect a new building, known as the New Council of Ministers and International Conference Hall which will be the venue for the 2011 Asian Summit and is scheduled to be completed shortly. He worked as the chief architect taking the lead in managing the construction,drawings and coordination of the project.

Though his parents were in business and wanted him to follow in their footsteps, he decided to study architecture.

“When I was young, I liked playing with soil, turning it into houses and construction as well as drawing. When I imagine something emerging from this I want to make it happen,” said Bunseang.

With enough ability and the desire to have his own design firm, at the end of 2009 he decided to set up a company, Bunseang Architects and Associates (BAA), and designed a 12-storey residential project in Phnom Penh which is now under construction.

He said that he designed the apartments with a unique concept of classic-modern architecture.

“I want a building to express the way of life I want, remind me of my family living there. In the modern age with technology and materialism we all have to know the roots from where we came and past history,” Bunseang said.

He takes time out to teach students and is an architecture lecturer at Pannhasastra university, which provides him with the opportunity to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of would-be architects hoping that those with potential will go on to become professional architects.

Given a scholarship, Bunseang spent seven years studying for his bachelor degree of Architecture and Urban Planning from the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) which he completed in 1998.

In his academic life Bunseang was chosen by his university to do a short vacation course in countries such as India and Thailand which he said made him be aware of other country’s architecture and by seeing modern and sophisticated buildings in the developed world wanted to aim at improving Cambodian architecture and giving it prestige.

Wanting to work and help poor people while he was studying, he also worked from 1997 to 2000 with one of the United Nations organisations to help build housing for poor people and educate them in hygienic living.

In 2000, Bunseang was selected to work for the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNTAET) for more than two years as a United Nations volunteer and while there succeeded in helping with the building, design of infrastructure and administration facilities.

“I learned and contributed to developing poor communities in Timor and helped poor people there.”

Returning to Cambodia in 2003 and in his quest to learn more about architecture, he pursued his Master’s Degree of Science in the field of Urban Environmental Management by winning a scholarship to study at the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok.

After completing his Master’s degree, he worked as a development consultant for the World Bank’s Cambodian country office in Phnom Penh and then in 2007 spent two years gaining experience in high rise building design in New York. He worked for an international architectural firm as an in-house staffer who designed projects such as the Lexington House Hotel and other Marriott Hotel brand projects.

His employment with such a prestigious company gave Bunseang a tremendous opportunity to work with many qualified and talented designers and professionals within one of the world’s truly great cities – New York.

“I was absolutely delighted that I had the chance to work abroad and relate to these activities,” he said.

Different from other subjects, architecture, including the knowledge of science and art, is a combination of thinking and doing which requires natural talent, according to Bunseang.

“Thought becomes reality. When I design a building, I always consider myself as the owner of the building.”

Cambodia’s architecture has improved from year to year, especially in the last few years. Several modern skyscrapers have been built or are under construction, while Premier Hun Sen declared last month that Cambodia planned to build 555-metre-tall tower on Phnom Penh’s Diamond Island.

“Cambodia is going forward towards a civilised modern country and society and will be growing up with many tall buildings and many real estate development projects. It expresses how Cambodia’s economy goes forward and will bring a confidence to the foreign investment,” he said.

However, he believes there will be many  consequences which urban planners or the government has to address including infrastructure, the urban transportation system, and housing and living space for the rural-urban immigration to the city as people seek job opportunities.

Bunseang expressed his concern that “the conservation of the historical buildings may be gone due to the fast urban economic growth and development.”

But he says that it will take time to improve Cambodian architecture and  the government needed to work on comprehensive building and zoning codes for the cities, which would serve to shape the architecture employed to meet  high standards and good design.

Carrying Khmer style into the future

Sun Narin, Touch Sopor and Ngo Menghourng

Construction in Cambodia has been booming in the last decade, and despite the economic crisis, the modernising of Cambodia’s urban centres has continued to progress at a steady pace. Although the last 10 years have seen unprecedented growth in Cambodia’s cities, many of the buildings have been designed by foreigners, raising concern among Cambodian architects and historians that the country’s modern buildings are lacking Khmer style and causing cities in the Kingdom to lose their cultural identity.

Chea Bunseang, the principal architect at Bunseang Architects and Associates, said Cambodian architects lack the skills and practical experience due to out-of-date programmes at the Kingdom’s architectural schools, a lack of comprehensive building codes and zoning codes, and a lack of professional architecture instruction or an architecture society to act as a support network for designers working in the public and private sector.

Loy Bunleng, a 22-year-old architecture student in his fourth year at Norton University, said he is concerned that too many foreigners are being brought in to design buildings. He suggested that the government should “encourage Cambodian architects by giving them a chance to show their ideas, because we are capable of drawing good plans for the building”. Besides missed opportunities for the Kingdom’s emerging architects to hone their skills, the lack of Cambodians designing the country’s new buildings is also jeopardising the traditional identity of Cambodia’s urban centres.

“We all want the buildings, especially the state buildings, to be representative of traditional Khmer culture,” said Tang Sochet Vitou, an architecture lecturer at Royal University of Fine Arts, explaining that, as opposed to foreigners who have minimal understanding of traditional Khmer architecture, Cambodian architects have precise styles that are representative of Khmer identity.

“We are creative and retain the originality of Khmer characteristics. I want our architects to show their attainment like Vann Molyvann.” Vann Molyvann was the pioneer of “new Khmer architecture”, which emerged during the French colonial era in the 1950s, and he has since established himself as the country’s most famous contemporary architect. Over the last five decades, he has designed many of Phnom Penh’s most recognisable buildings. Some of his designs, such as the Independence Monument, have obvious similarities to ancient Cambodian architecture, while others, such as the Chaktomok Theatre or Olympic Stadium, feature more modern designs and subtle Khmer characteristics. Vann Molyvann is one of many Khmer architects who have taken modern designs and integrated traditional Cambodian building styles to create new styles that preserve the aesthetic traditions and functionality of traditional buildings. The French Department at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (pictured above), designed by Vann Molyvann, is an obvious example.

The moats that surround the modern-looking building are an homage to the moats that surround Angkor Wat and other temples. “Other countries don’t have these buildings,” said Hok Sokol, a Cambodian researcher on Khmer architecture, adding that Vann Molyvann was the first of a new generation of Khmer architects to “use new methods which made the buildings look good as well as serving the right functions.” Darryl Collins, an independent researcher and architecture historian, said that Khmer architecture has changed significantly over the years. There are four periods of Khmer architecture: local Khmer architecture (from the Angkor empire to 1863), French colonial architecture (1863-1953), New Khmer architecture (1953-1970) and contemporary architecture. What remains to be seen is whether or not contemporary architects can learn from their predecessors and design buildings that maintain elements of traditional Khmer styles.

As Phnom Penh and other urban centres develop in the coming decades, it will be architecture students like Loy Bunleng who decide exactly how to preserve Cambodia’s much-celebrated architectural history in the bigger and more modern buildings being constructed.

Despite the fact that many of the major construction projects in Cambodia are being designed by foreign architects, Hok Sokol said that a renewed effort by the Ministry of culture to train highly skilled architects would help preserve Cambodia’s aesthetic identity in the decades to come. “There is no need to worry,” he said. “We will not lose Khmer identity in the modern architectural designs because there are a number of proud Cambodian architects who will be sure to include Khmer styles into their creations before they begin building.”