Phnom Penh is a very green city; the streets are lined with trees, and vegetation grows endlessly in the tropical climate. Cambodia also has a rich history of architectural design, and despite immense deforestation, it has many natural building and sustainable construction resources. Unfortunately, the latter trend can also be said about the recent construction boom. As developers rush to build, many ignore the local climate and the opportunities that are available for resilient and inclusive design.
Amid the poorly built skyscrapers going up in Phnom Penh, some examples of green architecture also exist. They implement natural, local, and recycled materials, as well as green design principles in an effort to build more sustainably. While local designers often incorporate gardens and rainwater features into their projects to adapt to the climate, much more can still be done to help the city expand in a healthy manner. One organization uses architecture to illustrate how recycled and natural materials can be durable and beautiful, in addition to cheap and locally available. Building Trust International runs workshops and competitions to encourage sustainable solutions to buildings and infrastructure.
Their most recent project was a sustainable bamboo kiosk for a bear rescue center outside of Phnom Penh. The Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, part of the Cambodian Wildlife Alliance, is built of natural materials like adobe bricks and bamboo. Here, construction techniques are taught to workshop participants and made visible for visitors throughout the structure. Building Trust’s projects encourage sustainable designs like this one, that was built from the earth it sits upon, and they hope to influence the community to build in more environmentally and socially conscious ways.
Within the city of Phnom Penh, Komitu Architects have illustrated another good example of sustainable architecture by using more recycled materials through the participatory design and construction of the Kouk Khleang Youth Center. Operated by two Cambodian humanitarian organizations, the centre was constructed of low carbon and recycled materials with design input and participation from local community members. Today, the centre maximizes the use of the site while collecting water, educating the community, and proving an example of functional and aesthetically pleasing recycled architecture.
Outside of Cambodia’s capital there are further examples of natural building and sustainable design. Earthships and earthbag construction are viable options, but remain a more rural technique at the moment. There is no reason that Phnom Penh cannot take advantage of all natural building techniques since they respond well to the humid conditions and are locally sourced and inexpensive.
These are just a few examples of green design sprouting up in Cambodia. Although natural building and low tech passive designs are not as common as the mass produced imported highrise, sustainable design and climate conscious construction does exist in Cambodia. It is gaining support and popularity, but for now the streets of Phnom Penh may remain greener than the buildings.
How does natural building and green design influence your city? Is sustainable design and construction a priority in your city? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments below.
Credits: Images by Tara Whelan and Building Trust International. Data linked to sources.