The Unfinished Grand Urban Plan – The Bassac Riverfront Complex

The Bassac Riverfront Complex was the most significant urban expansion vision of the city. It started with the prospect of King Sihanouk that a new city center was to be established for Phnom Penh along National Route 2 along Bassac River and the extension of Monivong Boulevard. It should be innovative and modern as well as centrally and socially supported.[1]

Bassac Waterfront Complex © Building Cambodia: ’New Khmer Architecture’


The whole project was an experiment of public housing with modern ideas inspired by an unbuilt project Ville Radieuse by Le Corbusier covering 24 hectares of land with a buffer zone for protection against flooding of the river. The priority of the establishment of the buildings follows the importance of the needs.[2] As the city was facing the problem of surging population, the housing buildings became the cornerstone of the development, including The White Building (Municipal Apartments) by Lu Ban Hap and Vladimir Bodiansky, the Grey Building (Olympic Village Apartments) by Vann Molyvann and the National Bank Apartments by Henri Chatel and Jamshed Petrigura. Then, the Exhibition Hall, the National Theatre, also by Molyvann, and a Water Sports Complex were built to support the cultural needs of the society.

Bassac Waterfront Complex © Building Cambodia: ’New Khmer Architecture’

The construction held in 1962-1968 and involved a team of international and local architects headed by Molyvann. However, the rest of the plan, includes a national parliament building, a museum for the Royal Crusade of Independence, a school of art, music and classical dance, a school of public works, a national art gallery and an international hotel,  was abandoned, due to the reason that King Sihanouk was ousted in 1970. [3]

Bassac Waterfront Complex © Building Cambodia: ’New Khmer Architecture’

The Bassac Riverfront Project represents a substantial place in the independence and modernization of Cambodia regarding its notable exposure in films and photographs, the location of the complex in relation with the Independence Monument and the National Sports Complex and the connection of Preah Sihanouk Boulevard to the city center. It acted as the city image of Phnom Penh in the 1960s, that it is a vital part of an official tour of the capital for the foreign dignitaries. The activities of the city shifted from Wat Phnom at the north of the city to the riverfront and became a new symbol of Phnom Penh.[4]

Unfortunately, because of the Khmer Rouge and disrepair, most of the built structure failed to stand. Most of the project such as the Water Sports Complex, the Preah Suramarit National Theater and also the White Building demolished and the gardens were claimed for other purposes for the population growth. Only a few of them, such as the Grey Building, survives. The project has come to the end with very few records.[5]

[1] Vann Molyvann, Modern Khmer Cities (Phnom Penh: Reyum, 2004), 181-182.

[2] Ly Daravuth and Ingrid Muan, Cultures of Independence: An Introduction to Cambodian Arts and Culture in the 1950s and 1960s(Bhnaṃ Beñ: Raiyaṃ, 2001), 11.

[3] Benny Widyono, Dancing in Shadows: Sihanouk, the Khmer Rouge, and the United Nations in Cambodia (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008), 289.

[4] “Bassac Riverfront Project,” The Vann Molyvann Project, accessed December 10, 2018,

[5] “Bassac Riverfront Project.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.