The White Building – The Symbol of Phnom Penh in Modern Age

White Building © 2014 Sok Chanrado

The white building, also called Bassac Municipal Apartments, is the symbol of Phnom Penh in the modern age. It was built in 1963 by Cambodian architect Lu Ban Hap and Russian-French engineer Vladimir Bodiansky as one of the major works of New Khmer Architecture. It was a part of the Bassac Riverfront Project, an urban development project driven by the King Norodom Sihanouk to cater for the population growth after the independence of Cambodia from the French. [1]

“Finally, our capital must deal with the problem urban population… We must begin the construction of low-cost apartment buildings that can be rented or sold to average and small-income families. This will no doubt take some time and requires progressive planning and investment.” –  King Norodom Sihanouk [2]

The White Building at the time of construction in 1962. © National Archives of Cambodia

The 450 meters long building locates on Samdach Sothearos Boulevard. Its structure integrates two villages including four hundred and sixty-eight apartments. They are divided into six blocks with three to four stories high. All of the units are connected to an open stairwell as the spine. [3]

White Building © 1963 National Archives of Cambodia and Charles Mayer Collection

The housing project was designed for moderate-income tenants, mainly the civil servants or artists in the Ministry of Culture. It was the very first modernization experiment to provide a multi-story living pattern to middle-class Cambodians. The first-of-the-kind modern living style has turned living inside to be the wish of the officials, which made it the symbol for Phnom Penh. [4]As the evacuation in Khmer Rouge, it became empty and revived afterward. It was a vibrant community of that houses over 2500 residents. However, it is recognized as a deteriorated community that crowded with different social problems, such as poverty, drugs, crime, prostitution, etc. Due to deterioration, disrepair, and the illegal structure, cracks appeared in 2015, and in the end, it has been demolished in 2017. [5]

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

[2] Ross and Collins, Building Cambodia: ‘New Khmer Architecture’ 1953-1970, 16.

[3] Ross and Collins, Building Cambodia: ‘New Khmer Architecture’ 1953-1970, 18-19.

[4] Ross and Collins, Building Cambodia: ‘New Khmer Architecture’1953-1970, 18-19.

[5] “White Building Residents Receive Another Safety Warning.” Khmer Times. July 20, 2015. Accessed December 9, 2018.

1 Comment on “The White Building – The Symbol of Phnom Penh in Modern Age

  1. Actually, these two narratives are interesting and integrated your own opinion. Also, it is a good cut-in to choose such a figure to introduce and analyze as he was once bond to the urban development and full of controversy in Cambodian.

    However, the narratives is too a few without historical documents and bibliography. Please complete the final assignment before the last due date.

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