As the world of architecture evolves in Cambodia, many emerging designers and architects are tough, independent women looking to develop the ever-changing landscape of Phnom Penh. Working together at private architecture firm Re-Edge Architecture and Design on Street 310 are senior team leader Serey Soriya, her junior Lim Vouchly and young intern Lach Sovanna. They are all women striving to make a name for themselves in Cambodian architecture.
Soriya was only one of four women in her architecture class when she attended the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh. Inspired by the ancient buildings around her as a child, she wanted to make her mark with her own modern twists to the traditional designs. She left her hometown in Banteay Meanchey and traveled to pursue her studies in 2002. Soriya knew her choice of majors was difficult and needed a lot of creative ideas to maintain her passion, but she kept telling herself to never give up.
“By the time I graduated [in 2009] there were only two girls left [of the graduating class].”
Now at 31, she feels proud to be one of the many female architects and one of the few team leaders to run projects at Re-Edge for the past three years. Her first design project will soon begin construction for the Village Town project in Chroy Changvar later in the year. Other projects on villas, shops and condominiums include Chea residence, Boutique Hotel, Villa La Vue, Vue 2, Vill Chateau, Villa 339, Pailin Jewelry and 334 Condominium.
“When we studied about architecture in school, we never concentrated on the details. But as a project leader, I see that the clear details are very important as for the construction to understand,” Soryia explained. “We also have to think of all potential points related to designs and all problems that will affect the designs in the present and future by making our designs comfortable for customers as well as estimating how the surrounding area will develop.”
Lim has spent the past seven months watching her senior at work. The 23-year-old feels that work was much different from her experience as a student studying at the Institute of Technology. After seeing a building model made by an architecture student as a child, she always wanted to be in the design field. But as the only daughter, she was pressured to choose an easier profession. Her family was concerned with her working late nights for deadlines and kept suggesting she change her career and become a teacher.
“I love architecture,” Lim said softly. “I want to create something new and see my creations be built in reality – I want to be a part of what makes people comfortable.”
In a few short months, she has already immersed herself into many projects in urban, landscape and residential designs, focusing on increasing the quality of her technical drawings and skills as well as improving her communication skills with various suppliers.
Lim hopes her hard work and sacrifice as a student will one day change the city’s slums into an ecological haven. She is one of nine women in her class to graduate in architecture in 2015, but still has to defend her late hours with male co-workers on projects as well as juggle her additional language classes to compete with others in her field.
But she believes that all of it is worth it if she can one day design her dream master plan of implementing green infrastructure and buildings, complete with good public services and open space, in Phnom Penh.
Lim and Serey are helping forge a path for other women like 27-year-old intern Lach to pursue her dreams in designing the future of Phnom Penh. Barely interning for a month, she was invited to shadow the firm after presenting a final thesis defense in front of a committee at Paññāsāstra University. Taking advantage of the opportunities now offered at many of Phnom Penh’s universities in the field of architecture, Lach has participated in various competitions and represented Cambodian female youth at the Asia-Pacific Urban Youth Forum (APUFY) in Indonesia.
“One of the main problems for Phnom Penh’s current city layout is the lack of good eco and social friendly accessibility for pedestrian and cycling activities that link spaces in the central business district,” Lach observed.
“While some land use in the city keeps vertically changing and growing very fast, the horizontal green connection seems to be reducing.” Through her designs, she hopes to implement eco-friendly commuter paths into a sustainable city development plan using modern methods and materials.
A fan of legendary Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann and Calatrava Santiago’s works on architecture designs of modern and postmodern structures, she hopes to one day change the landscape of Cambodia.
“What I keep in mind is taking myself out of the box, creating and exploring the new things anywhere at any place,” Lach said with a nod. “We can do our part in society as young ladies, but I will do it through what I have as my profession.”