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Nation mourns legendary architect Vann Molyvann

Khy Sovuthy / Khmer Times Share:
Vann Molyvann died at the age of 91 yesterday. Supplied

The most prolific figure in Cambodia’s New Khmer Architecture movement Vann Molyvann died at the age of 91 at home in Siem Reap province yesterday morning.

Chuong Chhoeun, a driver and assistant who worked for Mr Molyvann for 24 years, said he died of old age and was not sick.

“We are very regretful and sad that we lost him because he was a very good person and someone we respected,” Mr Chhoeun said. “He always provided good ideas for me.

“He was a person the Cambodian people respected and loved so much.”

Mr Molyvann was born in Kampot province in 1926.

The first student to pass the Bacc II at Preah Sisowath High School in 1944, he was awarded a scholarship to study in France in 1946.

He studied architecture at Paris’s School of Fine Arts and returned to a newly independent Cambodia in 1956.

Soon after, he was appointed by Prince Norodom Sihanouk as a state architect. He went on to design many of Cambodia’s most ambitious and well-known public projects, constructed as part of the nationwide modernisation heralded by Prince Sihanouk’s People’s Socialist Community regime.

Mr Molyvann was also an urban planner and oversaw the expansion of Phnom Penh as well as the establishment of the sea-port at Sihanoukville.

He was involved in the leadership of Phnom Penh’s Royal University of Fine Arts and published several articles on Cambodia’s modernisation in Khmer journals.

During the Lon Nol regime that overthrew Prince Sihanouk in 1970, Mr Molyvann relocated to Switzerland, where he continued his work with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme.

In 1991, Mr Molyvann returned to Cambodia and was appointed as Minister of Culture, Fine Arts, Town and Country Planning. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Apsara Authority to protect the temples of Angkor Wat.

He also continued his research, publishing several books and completing a doctorate on the history of human settlements in Southeast Asia.

He had a remarkable burst of creativity between 1957 and 1970 and his work can still be seen around Phnom Penh.

The lotus-shaped Independence Monument he designed was built in 1958 in the centre of town and the Olympic Stadium, which was built in 1964, as well as the Chaktomuk Conference Hall (1968), were all his work.

Other notable work included the Preah Suramarit National Theatre and the Council of Ministers, which were torn down in 2008 to make way for more urban development.

He also built the Teacher Training College, now the Institute of Foreign Languages, and the recently demolished White Building.

Thai Naraksathya, secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, offered official condolences to Mr Molyvann’s family.

“We offer our condolences to the family and are sad to learn of his death,” Mr Naraksathya said. “His fame as an architect meant he was recognised by many people inside and outside of the country.”

He urged the young generation of Cambodian architects to follow Mr Molyvann’s example and help develop the country.

“We can never forget the achievements he made for us,” Mr Naraksathya said.

Touch Samnang, a young Cambodian architect and now deputy general director of the Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation, said he was sad to learn that Mr Molyvann had died.

“I studied architecture at university between 1997 and 2002, where I once met him and listened to a speech he gave,” Mr Samnang said. “Learning about his work was an important part of our education.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen in sending his condolence to Mr Molyvann’s next of keen said: “The late architect was an important human resource asset of the nation, Cambodia has lost an icon.”

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Vann Molyvann, Cambodia’s most famous architect, dies at 91