Call to refurbish capital’s old buildings

Sok Chan

The real estate and construction industries say it is time to refurbish older buildings of heritage significance in Phnom Penh because some – built as recently as the 1960s – are suffering from neglect and decay.

The real estate and construction industries say it is time to refurbish older buildings of heritage significance in Phnom Penh because some – built as recently as the 1960s – are suffering from neglect and decay.

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Professor Sieng Peou, a lecturer at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia, says some interesting buildings located around the Central, Old and Kandal markets are very old. Therefore, they should be restored and modernised.

“A renovated old building will last longer longer. However, if we do not renew, it will suffer,” says Sieng.

In general, Sieng says if reinforced concrete is used, a building can stand for more than 100 years or beyond if it is properly taken care of.

“Some housing around those markets were built in the 1960s. A number are still in good condition because the owners take care of them, but others have suffered damaged,” Sieng adds.

“We should not demolish the old constructions because they are traditional buildings and have a high value. The old buildings can become tourist attractions because most foreigners do not want to see shopping malls. Instead, they want to see old houses and ancient temples  inherited from a previous regime, such as traditional houses, temples or the colonial French buildings,” Sieng says. “We should preserve them.”

However, he says some buildings cannot be fixed and should be demolished. Experts should evaluate them, according to Sieng. “Some old buildings have already been demolished and replaced with high-rise buildings,” he notes.

He adds that some countries in the world, preserve parts of their old cities or towns but also build tower blocks. Sieng says old towns are maintained to attract tourists and to show off to the young generation their architecture, design and history.

However, Beijing, for example, is bulldozing many of its old, low-rise residential areas, known as hutong, because sanitation facilities are shared between many homes and roads are unpaved.

vatanak capital
On the 28th of May 2015, Vatanak and Canadian Buildings in Phnom Penh

At present, Phnom Penh has 14 districts, known as khan, and each has potential, says Long Kimsour, chief executive officer and chairman of Century 21 Advance Property.

“If we look at Khan Daun Penh, it is kind of cultural, commercial and administrative and includes the Royal Palace, the National Museum, Central Market and government office buildings,” Long says.

However, he adds that Khan Boeng Keng Kang, Khan Chamkarmorn and Khan Toul Kork contain fewer administration buildsings and cultural sites and are dominated by commercial and residential buildings, including condominiums. Each khan has its own uniqueness, he says. Therefore potential investors should study the location before deciding whether to buy.

Long adds that the districts surrounded the city such as Khan Chbar Ampov, Khan Chroy Changvar, Khan Russey Keo, Khan Posenchey, and Khan Dangkor, are all full of borey – often gated, self-sufficient residential complexes. They will become the new city and new housing project, he argues.

“In the future, when we enter the city centre, we will see old buildings and houses. They will not be demolished. The government will keep them to show the culture, historic buildings, especially Khan 7 Makara in Central Market, where there are a lot of old buildings,” Long adds.  He says that old buildings show the identity of a country.

Lao Tepseiha, secretary of state of the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, says that at present, the ministry is trying to preserve those old buildings. He is awaiting data on how many old buildings there are in the city and in the entire country.

“Owners of the old buildings can renovate them, but they must retain the traditional style,” says Lao. “Our officials will constantly check up on the construction to ensure quality, aesthetics and accountability,” he adds.

Phnom Penh Municipal Hall spokesman Met Meas Pheakdey says the Phnom Penh Municipal Hall together with The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the French embassy and relevant ministries and authorities have worked to preserve some old buildings, especially those inherited from the French colonial period in Cambodia from 1863 to 1953.

Met adds that a French-style building in the City Hall complex is preserved and renovated. “We renovated it  but we retained the existing architecture. We are also thinking about other building too,” Met says.

“For other old constructions, there are committees working with various authorities to check on and preserve them if considered worthy of the effort. Not all old building have to be preserved,” Met says, adding an evaluation process takes place that considers the quality of the construction, the strength of its foundations and other factors.

“We also take into account which zones should be developed, renovated and preserved. If it is just an ordinary old building with no special features and there is no need to preserve it, we can demolish it.

According to the latest report from the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, in 2019, there were 4,446 construction projects in the country, totalling about 18,540,880 square meters (sq m), with an estimated investment of $9.3 billion, up 78.88 percent  compared with the same period in 2018 when there was estimated investment capital of $5.22 billion.

In 2019, there were 432 high-rise buildings. There are 436 buildings of five floors and up (Sihanoukville has 203 high-rise buildings). Of these, 208  have five to nine floors, 135 have 10 to 19 floors, 57 have 20 to 29 floors, 23 have 30 to 39 floors and 13 buildings are 40 floors up or more.

specifically, there are 3,732 housing projects involving 38,488 units. There are 40 borey projects in the country – 16,589 houses or units, with a total floor area of 2,496,358 sq m. In addition to that, there are 20,781 apartments or villas across the country and 152 condominium projects with 17,707 apartments

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