Lu Ban Hap – The Inconspicuous yet Prominent One

Lu Ban Hap. © Moritz Henning

When talking about the New Khmer Architecture movement, Vann Molyvann is the most discussed architect. The numerous architects in the era, though gave significant force to the “Golden Age”, seem to be under the shade of Vann Molyvann. Lu Ban Hap may be the most prominent one among all of the overlooked.

Lu Ban Hap is an Architect as well as an Urban Planner. The Hotel Cambodiana, the Chenla Theatre, Chamkarmon Compound, Chenla State Cinema, and the White Building were his works.

In his childhood, he was an orphan and out of education. However, he was adopted by Penn Nouth, the Minister of State. The minister enabled him to finish school and be part of the Cambodian students sent to Paris on academic scholarships. [1]

Originally, he studied engineer. After he met Molyvann, who persuaded him to be an architect, he changed course because of the lack of architects in Cambodia. In 1960, he finished his study, then returned to Phnom Penh due to the request by Norodom Sihanouk, the head of state of Cambodia. He was appointed as the municipal architect of Phnom Penh and set up the Head of the department of housing and town planning of Phnom Penh. [2]

“When I arrived in Cambodia, the land languished, there was no one who cared, no cadres, no administration. French Indochina had been managed from Hanoi, but the French were gone indeed. We had to build everything new, but for me it was good.” – Lu Ban Hap, 2015 [3]

In his 15 years long direction, he has defined the urban fabric of Phnom Penh and turned it from a place of “nothing” to a metropolis-to-be with only twelve colleagues. His works for the city include design and maintenance of public gardens, waste management, street lighting, power supply, and building permits. Others are the architectural practices on Monivong Boulevard, the universities, factories and villas for the royal family. [4]

Lu Ban Hap’s plans for Phnom Penh. © Lu Ban Hap

He also the first one brought the consideration of the population and the buildings of Phnom Penh into the urban planning by conducting population and buildings census.

“If you direct a city, you have to know how many Khmer, Chinese or Muslims live in the city so that you know where to build a school or a mosque. Before me, there was nothing. I was the first who began to look at the city this way.” – Lu Ban Hap ,2015 [5]

Some compared his work against Molyvann, having a conclusion that his work is less integrated with modernity and Cambodian elements, but it is not fair since Molyvann spent longer time on studying overseas and the two has different focuses. Molyvann focused on architecture while Ban Hap integrated the consideration of what the city should be. It is impossible to judge whether it is a success or not for what he has done in the sixties to seventies as the Khmer Rouge came in the seventies and halted the project that was on progress and changed the works that had done. However, it is definite that he defined the foundation of the city.


[1] Moritz Henning, “Building a Legacy,” The Phnom Penh Post, July 11, 2015, , accessed November 10, 2018,

[2] Helen Ross and Darryl Collins, Building Cambodia: ‘New Khmer Architecture’ 1953-1970 (Bangkok: The Key Publisher, 2006), 135.

[3]Henning, “Building a Legacy.”

[4]Henning, “Building a Legacy.”

[5]Henning, “Building a Legacy.”

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