Phnom Penh’s Postcolonial Urban Growth 1958-1968

Fig. 1 – Phnom Penh’s urban growth from 1958 (a) to 1968 (b)
Fig. 2 – Top Left to Right: 1867, 1890, 1910 Middle Left to Right: 1922, 1947, 1953 Bottom Left to Right: 1958, 1963, 1993

From the maps above, there is a prominent concentration of the urban culture near the riverfront where the French colonists originally settled. Two of the major town planning strides took place in 1890 with Daniel Fabré, and 1920 with Ernest Hébrard, which can be seen in Fig. 2. However, the most notable urban expansion took place after 1950 post French colonisation, shown in Molyvann’s personal plan drawing in Fig. 1 and also in Fig. 2. It was exactly with this urban design that realised the true independence of Cambodia, and as the capital of the country, Phnom Penh became the great primate metropolis. The directionality and behaviour of development post 1950 is a reflection of Phnom Penh’s preceding urban condition. The city had a rather low population due to the fact that it was primarily occupied by the French, and as a result public housing was not a prevalent matter. With the post-independence urbanism, population grew rapidly from 370,000 to nearly 1,000,000, necessitating a need for immediate public housing to be constructed. Molyvann responded to this change with low cost public housing near the waterfront as part of the Bassac Riverfront Project, and soon proceeding development more inland.


  1. Doyle, Shelby Elizabeth. “City of Water: Architecture, Urbanism and the Floods of Phnom Penh.” 2012. Accessed December 15, 2018.

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