Angkor meets Modernism

Between 1956 and 1970 Vann Molyvann constructed over 100 buildings in the newly independent Cambodia, blending the traditions of Khmer architecture that created the temple complex of Angkor Wat, with the modernist principles he had learnt while a student in Paris. He said. “New building should bring tradition and heritage back to life.”  And a group of dedicated students and architects in Cambodia have got together to preserve his legacy through the Vannmolyvann Project.


One of their methods is to take tourists round town in a tuk tuk accompanied by a well informed architect to show you the surviving buildings – already some have been lost to the rapid development taking place in the city of Phnom Penh.


Still in use today is the Teacher Training College he designed in 1965 but now repurposed as an institute for teaching foreign languages. Lots of typical Angkorean features are in evidence: artificial bodies of water known as barays surround the complex, elevated walkways link all the different sections, naga heads (mythical snake creatures) adorn the buildings, and a long elevated entrance walk way brings you into the main building.


Additionally the complex is a careful study of how to ventilate in the pre-airconditioning age: cool air is directed off the barays through the buildings via brise soleils and the warm air is released through ventilation shafts at the top of the building in folded double concrete layers. The inverted temple form allows the top layers of the building to provide the shade for the lower layers.


Vann’s National Theatre and the Council of Ministers Building were both pulled down a decade ago, and his sports complex is under threat by development. These buildings from the “Golden Age” of Cambodia in its immediate post-independence era are vital to preserve and at minimum are definitely worth a dusty day in a Tuk Tuk to visit.


The elevated walkway leading over the water to the main building.
Elevations of the Teacher Training College
A view of the articificial water - the Baray - surrounding the complex.
The Naga Heads at the entrance.
The circular library building.
Additional water features.
The double folded concrete roof that acts as part of the ventilation system.
The large internal atrium of the building.
The exterior view of the sloping lecture theatres.
The attractive patterns of the concrete interior walls that are also part of the ventilation system - the glass has been subsequently added.
The gymnasium that was designed by a pair of young French architects on the same site.
The interior of the gymnasium.
The exterior of Vann Molycann's own house in the city centre.
The exterior of The Chaktomuk Conference Hall opposite the old Royal Palace.
An additional view of the conference centre.