A Novel by Guy Singer
‘Phnom Penh’s White Building is a decaying, reinforced concrete monument to Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann’s 1960s urban utopian dream. The low-cost apartments have borne witness to some of the most turbulent moments in the country’s history. And today, the neglected warren of flats – and their residents – have the scars to show for it.
‘Once a Le Corbusier-inspired experiment in public housing for Cambodia’s middle and lower classes and a prime example of the ‘New Khmer Architecture’, the White Building was abandoned in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge depopulated the capital city, forcing residents into the countryside. In the four years that followed, more than two million people are believed to have died at the hands of the genocidal regime.
‘The starving traumatised survivors flooded back into the city where they made their homes in the abandoned shells of the buildings that had been left behind. Now they – and the buildings they inhabit – are being confronted by another danger. Rising land prices, a real estate boom and erratic town planning are changing the face of the city, and those who stand in its way – whether human or structural – are paying the price.’