King Sihanouk: A driving force behind the New Khmer Architecture Movement

King Norodom Sihanouk was a beloved leader of Cambodia from the 1950s to 1970. He was a patron of the arts, being a composer, writer, poet, filmmaker, and interior designer. As such he was very in tune with design as a way of moving his country forwards into greater development. His beliefs that the arts and architecture was a way of economic development led to his strong support for the New Khmer Architecture Movement.

He saw the movement as a way to modernize Cambodia’s agriculture, infrastructure, industry, education, and health care. He worked with prominent architects of the movement such as Vann Molyvann and Lu Ban Hap, to began to integrate distinct traditional and vernacular Cambodian elements with the Modernist elements from abroad. This lead to the establishment of a more traditional urban identity for the city of Phnom Penh.

Sihanouk was no doubt a key player in the movement, and someone who was able to motivate his people towards creating a better city. Tragically, the style came to an abrupt end in 1970 when the King was overthrown and the country was plunged into decades of war; first with its own Khmer Rouge and then Vietnam.



Nhem, Boraden. The Khmer Rouge: Ideology, Militarism, and the Revolution That Consumed a Generation. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, Een Imprint Van ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2013.

The Vann Molyvann Project. April 5, 2016. Accessed December 20, 2018.

Chandler, David P. The Tragedy of Cambodian History: Politics, War, and Revolution since 1945. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993.

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