A competition venue of a special kind: the stadium of the capital Phnom Penh with its clear forms and unique concrete construction is one of the most fascinating examples of Cambodian architecture of the 1960s. It is the chef d'œuvre of the recently deceased Vann Molyvann - the most important architect of the so-called Khmer Modernism.

Thousands of impressive Khmer Modernist concrete buildings can be found all over Cambodia, but they are becoming fewer and fewer as they have to make room for new things. This remarkable architectural epoch lasted only a few years: it began in 1953 with Cambodia's independence and ended with the rule of the Khmer Rouge in 1975.

Modern: Western and regional influences in harmony

From 1953 the country's infrastructure had to be built up - King Sihanouk wanted architectural icons for the young nation. Initially, the problem was that there were neither trained architects nor a construction industry. But soon specialists from abroad returned with the ideas of Western modernism. Instead of simply imitating, they created something completely new, an architecture that incorporated Western and Cambodian elements. As a result, numerous modern buildings with triangular windows or those that - like the classic Cambodian houses - stand on stilts were built.

Photos: © Luke Duggleby

Made of concrete: Vann Molyvanns masterpiece

Vann Molyvann, who had studied in Paris, was strongly influenced by Le Corbusier, but also by the architectural traditions of Cambodia. Thus, the ground plan of the stadium resembles the famous temple complex of Angkor Wat. The sports hall, for example, whose square roof rests on four massive pillars, is based on an arrangement of four courtyards, which one passes through to reach the actual temple. The stadium was a real prestige object of architecture, and all the state guests who arrived at the airport were driven past it. One of Vann Molyvanns wise decisions was not to seal the areas around the stadium so that water could seep away unhindered. The Khmer modernity also has shaded facades and natural draughts to suit the tropical climate. While most of the buildings survived the terror of the Khmer Rouge, their destruction only began at the beginning of this millennium. So if you want to see the buildings of the Khmer Modernism, you should hurry.

Discover current magazine articles