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.