The HDRC team has been working with women at the White Building in Phnom Penh. The White Building is urban architecture heritages. In 1963, the Bassac Municipal Apartments (commonly referred to as the White Building, or just The Building) was completed as housing for 463 families, most being lower-level civil servants. This example of local and international architecture was integral to Vann Molyvann, the renowned Cambodian architect and chief urban planner. Known internationally as the New Khmer Architecture, it would reflect a distinctive style incorporating traditional design, climate efficiency, economy of production and practical social application.
Civil war started in 1970 and the Khmer Rouge victory in 1975 lasted until the Vietnamese invasion in 1979. The Building would be abandoned, the result of the Khmer Rouge’s forced evacuation of the entire city. Left to the elements, it would start its slow decline, not to receive new tenants until after the Khmer Rouge’s defeat and the Vietnamese’s departure.
And who are the new tenants? If you believe the popular press, they are drug dealers, prostitutes and criminals. However, if you live and work in The Building, then you know that the people who returned were mostly working families, civil servants, musicians, dancers, artists and street sellers. The Building is a vibrant community that, against all odds, has achieved a modest level of security and well-being. This is no small achievement. The history of The Building is the history of Cambodia: hope and perseverance through many dark days. That The Building and its tenants survive is testimony to their continuing hard work and determination. If any building has a soul, then this one certainly does. Through time, and with the many families it has sheltered, it has bridged past, present and future.