A Tribute to Vann Molyvann, a Shiny Star of Architecture in Southeast Asia

One of the world and southeast Asia’s most renowned architect, Cambodian Vann Molyvann, died at age 90 in Siem Reap, his home in the last twenty years. Vann Molyvann reshaped Cambodia with emblematic monuments and buildings in the 60’s and early 70’s during the reign of Prince Sihanouk. A legacy which is now under threat…


Vann Molyvann, picture from a magazine dating back to 1958
Vann Molyvann, portrait taken in a magazine published in 1958.

Renowned Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann has died at the age of 90 in his home in Siem Reap on Thursday. The sad story was confirmed by Molyvann’s assistant, Choung Chhoeun. He was close to 91. He was born in 1926 to poor parents. He studied in Phnom Penh before receiving a government grant to study in Paris in 1946.

He then studied architecture along with other arts at Paris’s Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts) and returned to a newly independent Cambodia in 1956. Soon after, he was appointed by Prince Norodom Sihanouk as a state architect. He went on to design many of Cambodia’s most ambitious and well-known public projects, constructed as part of the nationwide modernization heralded by Sihanouk’s Sangkum Reastr Niyum (“People’s Socialist Community”) regime. He also designed numerous private homes and smaller structures during this period.

Molyvann iconic structures include the Independence Monument, the Olympic Stadium, the National Theatre and the fan-shaped Chaktomuk Conference Hall hugging the banks of the Tonle Bassac River. Unfortunately, over the last 15 years, many of Molyvann work has been either demolished or transformed to the point of being unrecognisable due mostly to real estate developers’ greed and a political desire to eradicate Sihanouk’s legacy.

The Olympic stadium, considered as one of the most beautiful sport structures in Southeast Asia with a capacity for 60,000 people, has been integrated into an office and mall complex surrounded by high towers. Just a month ago, the emblematic White Building – a public housing estate-has also been torn down.

They are still however a few Molyvann structures to be discovered in Phnom Penh which include the independence monument, the Institute of Foreign languages at Phnom Penh Royal University, the Institute of Technology or the Chatomuk Conference Hall. A few villas and infrastructure can also be admired in Battambang, Kep or some other provincial cities.

The Foreign Languages Institute

Many call Molyvann’s work part of Phnom Penh’s cultural heritage as Cambodia capital grew tremendously in the sixties, under the architect’s supervision, creating its own unique architectural and urban landscape. Tours are being organised by Khmer Architecture Tours. The association focuses on buildings erected after Cambodia’s independence in 1953, a style described as ‘New Khmer Architecture’. Tours are generally organised for groups on Sunday while individual tours canbe booked every day. Information is available under http://www.ka-tours.org/

With Vann Molyvann disappearing, Southeast Asia is losing one of the most talented architects of the 20th century when construction was still implementing with the idea to improve the quality of life of all…