Kingdom’s Modern Architecture Fails Caveman

April is the cruelest month, as T.S.Eliot so famously put it, living in Cambodia, one could never truly understand how until one received his electricity bill at the end of the month. With an urban cottage in the style shown below, even electricity did not undo the heat.

villa in Phnom Penh
Stylish urban villa

Modern designed, large windows, clean-cut lines, all suggest hints of an ideal urban dwelling for the city bourgeoisie. However, as a matter of fact, city bourgeoisie fled as temperature indoors surpassed outdoors by a season, day and night. When spring dawns on the gardens, it’s summer indoors; and when it’s summer in the gardens, the interiors of the cottage advance into the status of Sahara mid-day, as a result in April daytime not only the human dwellers but also their canine companions opted outdoors for a chill out. The trick is the large windows.

Mies Van Der Rohe made the glass curtain wall fancy in the north hemisphere whereas architects of the tropics in recent years took it to themselves to incorporating the idea back at home, neglecting the fact that Mr. Van Der Rohe came from a rather cold climate. The consequence is fatal.

Glass-walled apartment in Phnom Penh
Another example of fatality

Mid-day Sahara from 7am through 8pm. Tenant of above apartment, which consists of glass curtain walls on two sides, might propose to reduce rent by half as she found it barely, if not at all, habitable during night and not habitable during the day. One cannot help but question the very purpose of human dwelling in its very originality. Why did the first caveman, in the long history of our species, take to moving himself to the cave in events of rain, heat and snowfalls rather than remaining on the surface of the grassland or, like the birds, perching himself on the tree top? He sought alleviation from nature’s cruelty.

Alleviation was the answer, not enhancement. The cave was the very embodiment of such alleviation, that being the purpose of human dwelling in its most primitive definition. And today, the ingenuity of our tropics’ architects afforded themselves no further than inviting us into nature’s enhanced cruelty, instead of its alleviation, by offering the kindly placement of a glass box over our heads, against the sun scorch, literally shown below:

vattanac capital
A landmark building in Cambodia

In a similar fashion of the following device as if we were vegetables who strived for budding.

green house

 

The caveman would have been badly saddened had he had the misfortune to live on and seen our glassed apartments in the tropics.

In the old-fashioned days of King Sihanouk and Mr. Vann Molyvann, tropical architecture was all about sensibility and elegance. One fine example would be The Shop cafe in Toul Kork district.

the shop cafe
Bird’s View

A faint influence of Palladio on the plan, judging from its cross design.

Larotonda2009
La Rotonda

Palladio’s La Rotonda, cross planned with pediments and access stairs on all four directions, and apartments hidden adjacent to the core of the cross.

Apart from planning, little else was Palladian, much was pure tropical invention to cope with tropics’ harshnesses.

phnom penh
North facade is modestly composed but not without glass windows and doors.
phnom penh, cambodia
Floor plan

 

To the south side, where tropical cruelty strikes the hardest, the answer was a curved arcade in line with the walls. Unlike classical arcades in Palladio’s buildings which often sit on columns of Greek orders, its support in our case is fin-shaped arches, providing further sheltering of the sunlight before it arrives at the large windows which are again abundant, allowing merely benign light through to light the interior.

phnom penh, cambodia
Arcades

 

phnom penh, cambodia
Backyard

Beyond the arcades are lushing trees and tropical bushes in the backyard to further shelter direct sunlight.

phnom penh
Arcade viewed from indoors

 

cambodia
Interior, presumably the saloon and lounge in its original capacity and now as the cafe’s sitting area.
the shop cafe, phnom penh
Window frames made of solid wood, indicating its ancient quality.

The old-fashionedly built house was apparently meant to be someone’s home. The idea was not so much about not implementing glass, but all about not implementing it so boldly and nakedly in the Van Der Rohe style. That should well have been a point appreciated by the tropical caveman.

The Story of Snowbell @ The Bridge

It all started when three friends, Ming, Haijun and Ray, pottering around the crowded streets of Phnom Penh, in one of the cooler evenings of early 2018, saw this:

snowbell @ the bridge

 

The three friends,

WeChat Image_20181031115354

 

Sorry, this might be more business-like,

trio

 

The three friends were impressed by the imposing mass of the giant building and by its shimmering glass curtain walls. So, they went up to have a look. They saw this:

snowbell @ the bridge

This,

cof

And this,

cof

 

They were further impressed.

Ming was a Hangzhou college Associate Professor with the Hospitality faculty, so they thought it might be a good idea to make a hotel out of it. Haijun is Partner at Tings & Associates, an architects’ firm based in Phnom Penh; and Ray came from finance backgrounds.

They went straight into the deal without much thought, as all Chinese businessmen nowadays in Cambodia seem to do, and business talks with Developer of the building took time. By March, they had reached a deal, acquiring the 28th and 29th floors for their hotel idea.

Keys were handed over, and they received this:

Rather primitive, they thought.

 

They went home to draw ideas:

hand drawing hotel designcorridor and lobby receptionlarger unitlift lobby

 

And invited some Cambodian friends to help knocking the walls through:

44102973_1844503412272207_139564661635809280_n

 

And invited more Cambodian friends to cut the ceilings open:

44282983_1844495605606321_6235014249920331776_n

 

The three friends found out that they had spent all their fund purchasing and constructing the units. Work wasn’t complete. They heard that the Chinese had got money these days, so they all travelled to Hangzhou to look for rich Chinese:

WeChat Image_20181031141807

 

They found some, and made presentations and had sold them the hotel idea:

WeChat Image_20181031150545

 

So they brought their Chinese friends to Phnom Penh and the Chinese friends brought their money.

Now the three friends had money and invited some Russian friends to make furniture:

42538727_1819456701443545_7159695170873589760_n

And more Russian friends to make beds:

39146124_1762664777122738_1791094112250757120_n

 

And they imported natural marble from Norway to make table surfaces:

WeChat Image_20181031145505

 

Soon they found out that making high-quality solid wood furniture and Norwegian marbles cost too much money. They had to ask their Chinese friends for help again. They heard that people from Hainan had got money these days and they loved to invest in tropical countries, so they all traveled to Sanya, to look for rich Chinese.

They found some:

WeChat Image_20181031142736

And sold them the hotel idea.

 

With the money, they invited some French friends to make the ceilings more diverting:

WeChat Image_20181031140300

 

It’s October now, and they finally have this:

sdrcofWeChat Image_20181031140620snowbell @ the bridge

Snowbell @ The Bridge, a high-rise boutique hotel of 63 rooms and 12 executive suites, located in the 28th and 29th floors of The Bridge SOHO.

[colonial] Bokor Mountain Church

Bokor Mountain Church

Abandoned Catholic church, Bokor Mountain, Kampot province

The ruins of Cambodia

Presumably built in the 1920s during French colonial rule, fell into disuse after upon Japanese invasion, once again abandoned due to Khmer Rouge turmoil, and remained in desolation ever since.