Independence Monument; Vann Molyvann, architect (All photos: Luke Duggleby for The Wall Street Journal)
A lone figure walks the stands of Vann Molyvann’s Olympic Stadium.
The Chaktomuk Conference Hall, one of Mr. Molyvann’s earliest designs, was built in 1961.
The library at the Institute for Foreign Languages, now part of the Royal University of Phnom Penh
More of Mr. Molyvann’s work at the Institute for Foreign Languages
Yet more of the institute
MAY 28, 2010
By TOM VATER
The Wall Street Journal
Vann Molyvann, Cambodia’s greatest living architect, recalls that the night his Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh was completed, in 1964, “I took my wife to see the work.” Sitting in the top tier of the stands, they listened to Dvorák’s “New World Symphony” over the stadium’s speaker system. “It was one of the great moments of my life.”
In the years after Cambodia won independence from France in 1953, Mr. Molyvann—then scarcely in his 30s—set out under the tutelage of King Norodom Sihanouk to transform Phnom Penh from a colonial backwater into a modern city. But in the late 1960s the country was drawn into decades of war and terror, including years under the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, and Mr. Molyvann’s vision was virtually forgotten. The architect himself had to flee the country.
And while he returned in triumph after more than 20 years abroad, it was to find that grand titles didn’t translate into influence in today’s Cambodia. His legacy—structures in a style dubbed New Khmer Architecture—lives on, contributing significantly to the flair of the city, but even that is in danger as Phnom Penh, like other Asian capitals, clears historic buildings to make room for skyscrapers.