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Impressions of Phnom Penh

Colonised. Rebuilt with a unique Modernist twist. Evacuated. Bombed. Squatted. Few cities have had to contend with such scale of upheaval as the Cambodian capital, finds photographer Shannon Sadler

Following the fall of Pol Pot’s brutal regime at the end of the 70s, Cambodians that had been evacuated to the countryside to work on collective farms and forced labour projects returned to a Phnom Penh left empty for years. Churches, a cinema, a fine hotel from the colonial period came to serve as shelters for the survivors of the purges.

Today, many of these adapted buildings are still there and still squatted, though the government, having already sold the land for development, is attempting to move the squatters out. In 2008, a much-loved theatre by Vann Molyvann, the former state architect under Sihanouk, was emptied and razed in just two days.

A group of young Cambodian architects based at Manolis House, a squatted former hotel, are documenting the threatened buildings and conducting architectural tours of the city.

You can see the result of their work on their website, Luckily, there are still many examples of buildings by Molyvann and other architects of the vigorous Modernist moment of growth and development known as the Sangkum Reastr Niyum era, a dynamic period of rapid development which took place between independence in 1953 and the coup d’état that deposed Sihanouk in 1970. n

Shannon Sadler is an Italian-French photographer now resident in Cambodia

Readers' comments (1)

  • Great pictures of fine buildings exploring modernism interpreted from a tropical and regional point of view. Sadly there is no 'listing' system or protection yet in Cambodia. There should be...

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