Building A Sustainable Phnom Penh

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Re-Edge Architecture + Design has been leading the sustainable building design in Cambodia. Their portfolio, which features a consistent emphasis on green spaces, clean lines and urbanism, includes the Singaporean brand Wangz Boutique Hotel, the Loop House in Toul Kork, and Mito Hotel’s chic lobby.

We spoke to Re-Edge’s principal, Hun Chansan. A registered architect, Chansan graduated with a Master in Architecture from Northeastern University Boston, Massachusetts. After spending over 15 years in Singapore and the United States, Chansan returned to Cambodia in 2009. He tells us about the culture of the local architectural industry, and the future of construction in Phnom Penh.

A Sustainable Mission

Re-Edge’s sustainable approach reflects that of the classic 1960s Khmer New Architecture. “Wherever possible, we strategically design our buildings to be passive, by reducing heat gain through the building envelope, maximising views and natural ventilation, as well as using locally available materials,” explains Chansan.

His dedication to sustainability doesn’t stop at the design process. “After the architect’s specifications, the construction company and third-party suppliers should also research and introduce newer products that are environmentally friendly and cost effective. We also hope that there will be a green index board that assists and regulates these requirements, and subsidization for sustainable features to encourage this kind of construction in the country,” Chansan says.

Reusing Buildings

As people become aware of the benefits of sustainable design, Phnom Penh’s historical sustainable buildings are beginning to become more appreciated. “The future looks brighter for [Khmer New Architecture] landmarks because people are more educated now. Social media makes public opinion powerful, and developers are more brand-conscious than before. They will not risk their business now as they would have done before.”

Rather than ripping down old buildings, Chansan believes that they can be an asset to a new project. “My suggestion to all new developments is to work around these landmarks, make use of them and their marketing points, and explore innovative ideas for their new developments based on these landmarks. The future of architecture in Cambodia should explore a new wave of Khmer New Architecture, instead of just fulfilling the basic requirements. At my practice we have a story behind each of our designs, as it helps narrow down the design focus and stay on course with the overall concept.”

Improving Standards

Chansan believes that the new Cambodian Construction Law, due to be enacted later this year, looks set to change the industry for the better. “I believe the new law will force the owner, the architect, the engineer and the contractor to look into each construction process properly. It will educate all parties what the duties are of each from the working progress all the way up to the legal terms. What will happen also is the cost and timeframe of constructing a building because there will be more layers of checklists, more parties involved and more time taken to get approval.”

“From an architect’s point of view, we will be able to focus on matters that are more important to the architectural design, interior spaces and other program requirements, instead of approving engineering services or works that are under the responsibility of other consultants. This has been misunderstood in the past and I believe the Board of Architects Cambodia will also have to expedite its own set of architectural duties,” he adds.

Chansan believes that the law will create a “domino effect”, improving “the quality of qualified architects in the country, which will in turn improve the quality of education and quality buildings for the whole construction industry. From another business point of view, setting up a construction company will require more capital, human resource and machinery which will open up doors to international exchange of building supply business and human capacity. This law needs to come quickly and all parties need to mature and act together.”

A group effort is needed to improve on the country’s construction industry. “This matter requires all parties involve implementing in order to play a part in the country as a whole. For example, the architect must introduce penalty clause for site injuries. Clients must demand public and worker safety at all times, project manager reinforce on-site meetings, and main contractors to make their standard safety rules stricter.