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Khmer Civilization and Tradition (in English)Posted: 2009-10-01 22:31:15   Replies: 0
Khmer Architechture (3)

Modern Khmer architecture: the buoyant 50s to 70s
Cambodia obtained independence peacefully from France in 1953 while the rest of the region was in turmoil. Thereafter the country experienced a dynamic period of economic development and cultural prosperity, unique in South East Asia. Unfortunately this period came to a brutal end in 1970 with the military takeover by Lon Nol, after which there followed 20 years of war and chaos.
Between 1953 and 1970, backed by Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Khmer architecture blossomed with the construction of an impressive number of noteworthy buildings. Not only is this period easily definable politically, but it also corresponds to the emergence of an effervescent style of architecture closely linked to a Khmer renaissance of the arts and to an effet du Prince, the commitment of Sihanouk to promote a high standard of excellence.
Important figures in the architectural flowering of this period are the architects, engineers, public works and ministry officials whose visions and capacities were channelled into concrete realisation. Notable amongst them are the architects and officials H E Vann Molyvann (b 1926), H E Ing Kieth (b 1926), H E Keat Chhon (b 1934) and Mam Sophana (b 1936). Important structures from the period include the Chaktomuk Conference Hall (1961), the National Sports Complex (1964), the Royal University at Kompong Cham (1965) the Preah Suramarit National Theatre (1968) and the Preah Kossomak Centre for Training Electrical Technicians (1969).
The new Khmer architecture of the period from 1953 to 1970 was characterised by high standards coupled with innovative style, reflecting the self-confidence that this independent nation had in itself. The contrast between this period of enlightened construction and the destruction which followed in the 1970s could not be greater.
An in-depth study of this period was recently undertaken by Helen Grant Ross, Darryl Collins and Hok Sokol with funding from the Toyota Foundation, described in the report Building Cambodia: New Khmer Architecture 1953-1970.

Contemporary Khmer architecture
On 17 April 1975 Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge and soon afterwards the capital city and other urban centres were completely evacuated. People began to return in 1979 and reconstruction has been going on ever since.
In recent years the urban landscape has been changing rapidly, with the result that the pace of development has sometimes outstripped planning. Although larger foreign-funded projects have followed the architectural rules, a considerable amount of unsystematic construction has taken place in residential areas.

Current architectural heritage issues
Over the past decade, with the support of various international agencies, strenuous efforts have been made to safeguard the magnificent temple complexes of Angkor.
The temples were placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1993 and an international committee known as the International Co-ordinating Committee for the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Site of Angkor (ICC) was established to administer the site. Since 1995 a Cambodian government authority known as the Autorit pour la Protection du Site et l'Amnagement de la Rgion d'Angkor/Siem Reap (APSARA) has taken charge of security, development and restoration at Angkor.
Restoration is currently being undertaken by numerous conservation teams of different nationalities. Prominent amongst these are the cole Franaise dextrme-orient (EFEO), the German Apsara Conservation Project (GACP), the Japanese Government Team for Safeguarding Angkor (JSA) and the World Monuments Fund (WMF), all of which are members of ICC but report to UNESCO. Documents produced by the various teams associated with the restoration of Angkor and related monuments may be consulted at the Angkor International Documentation Centre, which was established jointly by UNESCO and APSARA in 2001 in order to meet the growing needs of the technical and research community based in Cambodia.
Current concerns focus on the exponential nature of tourism development in and around the Angkor World Heritage Site, which has already created environmental and other problems within Siem Reap town and increasingly poses a threat to the monuments themselves.
In recent years a rapid increase in number of tourists visiting Siem Reap-Angkor (750,000 in 2004) has led to the construction of many new hotels, restaurants and tourism facilities in Siem Reap town, often in a haphazard and unco-ordinated manner. This, together with the increase in Siem Reap's population from 85,000 in 1993 to 127,000 in 2004, has led to a heavy demand for public services, exceeding the capacity of facilities such as water supply, sewage, power and roads and creating problems with environment-related facilities such as sewage and solid waste disposal. At Angkor itself the concentration of foreign tourist flows on major temples such as Angkor Wat, Bayon and Phnom Bakheng during the peak tourist season has caused damage to the monuments, while at the same time creating problems of traffic congestion and waste disposal.
In response to these problems an Integrated Master Plan for the Sustainable Development of Siem Reap-Angkor Town was drawn up in 2004 as a co-operative project between the Ministry of Tourism, the Autorit pour la Protection du Site et l'Amnagement de la Rgion d'Angkor/Siem Reap (APSARA), Siem Reap Provincial Government and the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA), with the aim of building the necessary infrastructure and maintaining the quality of tourism resources and environment in Siem Reap-Angkor town from a long term viewpoint. The project will also investigate other solutions, such as controlling visitor numbers and visitor flows in order to reduce impact, creating new tour circuits within the Angkor World Heritage Site, introducing new means of transportation such as an electric shuttle bus to reduce congestion, and developing other attractions to relieve pressure on the monuments.
Despite these concerns, in July 2004 the Angkor World Heritage Site was removed from UNESCO's World Heritage in Danger list, on the grounds that the site had been secured from destruction and that the restoration activities co-ordinated by UNESCO since 1993 could be considered a success.
In the meantime there are estimated to be a further 1,600 temples around the country, including at least 30 major complexes, managed by local authorities with inadequate funds and often limited expertise in the field of heritage conservation. Ancient buildings are all too often restored or reconstructed using inappropriate materials and sub-standard techniques, and modern concrete wat buildings are still being constructed around or immediately adjacent to ancient sanctuaries.
Another serious problem facing the Cambodian heritage sector is the looting of sites and illegal trafficking of antiquities. In recent years the Cambodian government has made a big effort to prevent the trafficking of heritage items out of Cambodia.
As a result of this campaign, military police confiscated over 2,000 artefacts at the Thai-Cambodian border in Banteay Meanchey, many from Prasat Banteay Chhmar temple and the archaeological dig at the Phum Snay burial grounds. They include Angkorian sculptures and stone lintels, and prehistoric items such as bronze drums from the Đng Sơn period. There are plans for a new provincial museum to open in Banteay Meanchey, so that these artefacts can go on permanent display to the public.
In this connection a non profit organisation known as HeritageWatch was set up in 2003 with a mission to reverse the trend of heritage destruction in Cambodia by means of a multi-faceted education programme aimed at discouraging the purchase of antiquities and the attendant destruction of sites.

Reference: Cambodia Cultural Profile

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