How does corruption affect architecture? Considering how corrupt Cambodia is (ranks 160 of 177 countries in the world) and that Phnom Penh does not have an implemented zoning or investment plan for future urban development, the architecture in the city reflects these unplanned conditions. So what does corrupt architecture look like - does it have a style, quality or impact? Since Phnom Penh is currently undergoing unprecedented urban expansion, the architecture of the city is rapidly changing into a more globalized modern society, but at what cost to the livability and design of the city?
Corruption runs deep throughout the country, beginning with children in school through to planning departments, professional services and transportation. Having an opaque government means that nobody needs to justify development, what gets built where and why, is not openly disclosed. Most major developments happen behind closed doors without addressing the public or current residents, such during the Boeung Kak lake infill or white building evictions. The quality of new structures also diminishes with unforeseen costs or bribes that are commonplace, and the construction sector is no stranger. Other effects of corruption on architectural design and quality in Phnom Penh include:
- Poor (architectural) education;
- Lack of historic preservation or vernacular design;
- Poor quality;
- No unified plan for city design;
- And, decreasing livability/public amenities.
Giving permission to foreign developers to build where and how they like, not only creates a disjointed style but does not recognize the local environment or cultural traditions. Cambodia is a low lying country and depends on seasonal flooding for agriculture and fishing, flooding in Phnom Penh is common as it sits in a flood plain and once had many rivers and canals. The vernacular Khmer architecture responds to these environmental conditions with traditional structures that are raised above the ground level to accommodate flooding and provide extra shade. Unfortunately, with higher density needs and uncontrolled zoning regulations due to corruption, new buildings are built from the ground or basement levels up and become flooded, or facilitate flooding with impermeable design.
Phnom Penh was known for its beauty during the 1960’s, with many colonial structures dating from the French protectorate era that have been adapted to the tropical climate. Now many beautiful historical buildings are in poor condition or being lost to rapid urban growth; corruption in Phnom Penh has led to a focus on immediate gains instead of long term sustainable development.
After a recent history of trauma and conflict, corruption is still a major flaw and has resulted in a society that has no use for communal infrastructure. The public realm suffers from this and the local architectural style is being lost to foreign investment. Over the next few decades, the face of Phnom Penh could change drastically to reflect this uncontrolled exploitation of the built environment. Corruption is present in all societies to some degree, it manifests itself differently but still influences the shape of our cities.
How has corruption affected your urban environment? What are some methods in controlling corruption? Please share your city's story in the comments below.
Credits: Images by Tara Whelan. Data linked to sources.