The roots of modern architecture are quite traceable to the Chicago World’s Fair in the year 1893. At the time, Daniel Burnham, as head architect, recruited several prominent assistant architects to work to design buildings for the Fair. Young European architects were enraptured by abstract forms stripped of ornament, and modern architecture took root, globally.
New Khmer Architecture describes an architectural movement in Cambodia during the 1950s and 1960s, and blends Modern Movements with two Cambodian traditions: the grand tradition of Angkor, and the vernacular tradition of ordinary people’s houses.
Norodom Sihanouk, King, Prime Minister, Head of State, composer, writer, poet and lyricist, filmmaker, interior designer, and patron of the arts, envisioned in 1953 Cambodia as a modern, developed country and an integral part of the world. This led him to modernize the country, from agriculture to infrastructure and industry, education to health care, tourism to the arts.
Initially, foreign influences were highly evident, but architects of the movement increasingly employed distinctly Cambodian elements and merged these with Modern elements, labeling the city of Phnom Penh with its many buildings in the style of New Khmer Architecture the ‘Pearl of the East’.
Mixing the old and the new, the movement has produced buildings with reinforced concrete and assertive structures, houses raised on columns, with open shaded spaces for social activities, natural cooling effects, and protection in times of floods, with wall panels, and with double walls and roofs to prevent direct sunlight. The movement also includes Loggias, which are covered balconies and walkways, as well as claustras.