Architecture Students Imagine Future in ‘City of Memory’

Classic buildings are more than just landmarks to Silas Everett, country representative for The Asia Foundation. They are physical embodiments of culture, time and place.

“Old buildings, they stand in cities like trees. They provide roots and identities for people and communities,” Mr. Everett said at an award ceremony on Friday for the competition “Envisioning the Future of Post Office Square.”

Din Sithika, center, explains the concept behind his group’s winning design, entitled “The Flying Envelope,” on Friday at the Post Office in Phnom Penh. (Brian Leli/The Cambodia Daily)
Din Sithika, center, explains the concept behind his group’s winning design, entitled “The Flying Envelope,” on Friday at the Post Office in Phnom Penh. (Brian Leli/The Cambodia Daily)

University architecture students were asked to reimagine Phnom Penh’s French colonial-era Post Office building and adjacent square. The contest was the vision of Pen Sereypagna, an urban researcher, and Khiang Hei, the curator of The Asia Foundation Community Art Gallery.

“Phnom Penh is the city of memory and heritage,” Mr. Sereypagna said. “We chose the Post Office because the intersection of old and new together…can show how you can keep a sense of history with the fast pace of development.”

Phnom Penh is in the midst of a construction boom as foreign investment in the sector has spiked in recent years. For those interested in preserving the city’s architectural heritage, the constuction has been anathema.

With relatively few historic buildings left standing, entrants in the competition were asked to consider how future architectural design could maintain a sense of cultural identity in spite of the rapidly changing urban landscape. Models were also judged on aesthetics, as well as social and environmental sustainability.

The winning entry, entitled “The Flying Envelope,” was created by Pannasastra University students Din Sithika, Korng Sovanneth and Horn Sok, along with Nuon Sereyvuth of Norton University, which co-sponsored the event with The Asia Foundation.

Their model shows a tree-lined, pedestrian-friendly square with a towering paper airplane monument in front of the Post Office.

“The landmark is a folded envelope to represent the Post Office, but it would also be a landmark people would remember and gather at for events like New Year,” said Mr. Sithika at the award ceremony held at the Post Office.

“Our concept also pedestrianizes and renovates the road from Wat Phnom so tourists and locals could enjoy both areas,” he added.

The government has also previously suggested turning the area around the Post Office, surrounded by colonial architecture, into a traffic-free public space.

Vannak Seng, deputy chief of urban management at City Hall and one of the judges, said there were still plans to renovate the area, but nothing had been finalized.

“We submitted proposal for an Italian-style plateau three years ago,” he said, adding that it had been shelved. “We replanned… and are interested to work with others, but it takes time as many organizations need to be involved.”

Mr. Everett said the competition was just an academic experiment, but noted that powerful ideas can spark action.

“This is the start. Let’s see where it goes,” he said.

The models will be shown for three months at The Asia Foundation Community Art Gallery, starting on Thursday at 6 p.m.

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