“Now 86, young Khmer architects still look to Vann with great respect, referring to him as ‘Lok Ta,’ or the ‘honored master.'”

This article discusses the role of Vann Molyvann after he returned to Cambodia, tasked with the responsibility of creating the urban scene of Phnom Penh within a short amount of time.

Returning to Cambodia in 1957 and being appointed Chief Architect for the Urban Planning and Housing Department of the Ministry of Public Works and Telecommunications, Vann Molyvann and his team of architects took on the daunting task of reinstating a cultural identity that was at its time, faintly in existence. The present day Phnom Penh was built on desolate grounds after regaining independence from the French, lacking the fundamental infrastructural necessities for a city to function. Molyvann stitched together in this urban landscape a composition of traditional Cambodian architecture and modern architecture from Europe, a style that is now referred to as ‘New Khmer Architecture’. This sort of aesthetic can be seen in the architecture where Corbusier’s proportional system and traditional Angkor temple, detailed water conduct schemes and climate sensitivity begin to emerge.

The scheme of projects that Molyvann and his team completed for the Bassac Riverfront Project, aside from the urgency to quickly provide facilities for the sudden influx of citizens, demonstrated Molyvann’s sensitivity with establishing a concrete Cambodian identity. Molyvann’s projects span the spectrum from practical and low cost housing, small factories, civic spaces, governmental buildings, to larger scale infrastructural  facilities and monuments. Regardless of what program is being resolved, Molyvann consistently imbues a keen consideration for natural ventilation, integration of Khmer vernacular styles, and a sensibility for the relationship between land and water. This sort of sensibility goes beyond just the physicality of his designs – the seasonal changes that bring about the inescapable flood patterns were a key component towards the entirety of how he allocated the projects and the arrangement of various zones in the city. The divisions separated the city into three areas – ‘the old city,’ new sectors’ and ‘zones under development.’ Within these three sectors, Molyvann was personally responsible for more than seventy projects that still remain as notable landmarks within Phnom Penh. In only just 14 years, Molyvann established an infrastructure that would propel the development of Phnom Penh in future years.

Below is a brief overview of the projects along with a short description to get a sense of what Molyvann completed:

Chaktomuk Conference Hall (1961): Multi-purpose conference hall showcasing a mix of traditional Khmer vernacular and New Khmer Architecture. Located on bank of Tonle Sap, which is where the name is derived from (Confluence of Four Rivers)

Independence Monument & Gardens (1962): Monument celebrating Cambodian independence. Located at centre of traffic circle at the junction of Sihanouk and Norodom boulevards. Showcases modular proportions from Corbusier within the traditional Khmer Tower.

National Sports Complex (1964): Largest project in Molyvann’s career, located in the western sector of the city. Also provided living quarters for athletes during the Bassac Riverfront Project.

One Hundred Houses (1965): Group development for the National Bank of Cambodia staff. Showcases a mix between traditional Khmer vernacular and modern requirements for housing.

Preah Suramarit National Theatre (1968): References Frank Lloyd Wrights use of triangular forms and Corbusier’s modulor, located on the bank of the Bassac River taking on a ship-like form. Provides seating for 1,200 guests, and more than 300 artists.

Société Khmère des Distilleries & Associated Workers’ Housing (1968): Private commission initiated by the HEad of State, references a Khmer carrying-pole ‘dong rek,’ featuring a mix of red bricks and white concrete forms.

Teacher Training College (1972): Education facility as part of a series in the masterplan. Spaces are connected through a series of bridges and moats, referencing Angkorian monuments.


  1. COLLINS, DARRYL. “VANN MOLYVANN: SITUATING THE WORK OF CAMBODIA’S MOST INFLUENTIAL ARCHITECT.” Perspecta 45 (2012): 77-88. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24728117.

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