June 10, 2015
Architecture Heritage Visual arts

A Film by Haig Balian and Christopher Rompre
To his friends he’s known as Moly. To a growing number of admirers, he’s a living legend.
But to many in his native Cambodia, Vann Molyvann is anonymous, his designs a throwback to a long ago time that has little to do with modern Cambodia.
With The Man Who Built Cambodia we want to shine a light on this amazing architect to show just how ingenious and ahead-of-their-time his designs were, and to reflect on how the neglect and destruction of his work in recent years relates to development in Cambodia today. Vann Molyvann was plucked from relative obscurity in the 1950s by King Norodom Sihanouk, the charismatic monarch who steered Cambodia into independence after nearly a century of French rule.
The King wanted an architect who could help him build a proud, new architecture, for a proud, new nation. Vann Molyvann obliged, developing an original style that drew from the latest ideas in European modernist architecture, but also reaching back to ancient Ankorian and traditional Cambodian designs.
Their 15 year collaboration would usher in an ambitious period of urban renewal in Cambodia not seen since the construction 900 years earlier of the ancient city of Angkor Wat. Vann’s striking and original designs would form the base of a distinct style of Modernist architecture called “Khmer New Architecture”.
Today, Vann is 90 years old and living in relative obscurity. Many of his largest works are misused or crumbling. Meanwhile, Phnom Penh, the nation’s capitol, is experiencing a wave of hyper-development, and the lack of a clear vision for the city’s future is jeopardising much of what Vann Molyvann worked for.
This film will be the first and perhaps last to tell the story of Vann Molyvann’s life and work. The story of Vann’s life is, in many ways, the story of Cambodia. Given his age and fragile health, a critical part of this project is to create a visual record of Vann Molyvann’s stories and reflections.
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