"Angkored" in the past : Vann Molyvann's modern Khmer architecture

Ashbrook, Claire McCarty, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
Wilson, Richard Guy, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
Crane, Sheila, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
Huang, Yunsheng, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia

The modern architecture designed by Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann during the brief 17 years (1953 to 1970) of Cambodian independence reflects a climatic approach to design that fully acknowledges both the benefits of local tradition and global modernity. The passive systems Vann Molyvann incorporated in his modern designs drew strength not only from Western notions of modern architecture, but also, more distinctly, from the infrastructural systems of the Khmer Empire. The spatial and infrastructural design strategies employed by Vann Molyvann were a modern take on the traditional Angkorian approach to Khmer architecture. The methodology of looking to local traditions, which Vann Molyvann used in his Khmer inspired structures, paralleled the new independent Cambodian government's approach to establishing a national identity. This thesis examines Vann Molyvann's blending of Khmer building systems with modernist aspirations to create a national architecture that was distinctively Cambodian. The result of this design sensibility was a modern architectural tradition known today as New Khmer Architecture.

Since Vann Molyvann's structures respond to European Modernism, it would be easy to argue that they are merely a continuation of French colonial influence. However, examining the political ideas of the newly independent Cambodia and its distinctive modern structures allows scholars to identify how the architecture produced by Vann Molyvann reflected the economic inclination and political goals of a nation determined to build a foundation separate from its once parent nation. This thesis is concerned with the relationship that evolved between Vann Molyvann's modern architecture and Khmer history, and how this relationship was used to reinvent Cambodian culture and establish a distinctive form of modern architecture. The thesis begins with a review of Khmer traditional architecture and then examines how Vann Molyvann employed the climatic approaches of ancient Khmer architecture in his architectural designs. The second chapter identifies how the architectural designs created by Vann Molyvann paralleled the new Cambodian nation's political approach to establishing a strong and independent national identity. Through an examination of the Cambodian political system and its approach to unifying the nation, this chapter intends to show how the Cambodian post-colonial approach differed from other post-colonial nations. The final chapter compares the work of Vann Molyvann to other post-colonial modern architectural designs. Through a review of current scholarship on modernist architecture, especially in post-colonial situations, this chapter intends to highlight the novel approach advanced by Vann Molyvann's work and defend the argument that Molyvann produced a form of Modern architecture that is internationally distinctive.

MA (Master of Arts)
Vann Molyvann, Cambodian architectural design, Khmer architecture

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-02-18 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:34:04.

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