Historic White Building and the facing problems in the present
Posted On : August, 12, 2015 | By សំឡេងទីក្រុង

By: Ngy Sovan Ratany August 12, 2015 
Phnom Penh: Cambodian affluent society once reached its high peak of fast-growing city in the 1960s and 1970s under the flourished ruling era of King Norodom Sihanouk. Many great architectures were sought after back then as King Sihanouk’s vision of urban development in profound name of the New Khmer Architecture. Built in 1963, White Building, designed by Cambodian architect Lu Ban Hap and Ukraine-born French engineer Vladimir Bodiansky, was one of the one of the most astonishing housing complex in the heart of Phnom Penh city in 1960s in a response to an increasing population. Comprising of 468 apartments, the building’s inhabitants were mostly civil servants, and lower and middle class residents.

After the collapse of Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, most of the surviving residents in the building returned to where they used to live. The 468-apartment White Building once again came in to life that houses more than 2500 residents which are equivalent to some 600 families living in the building these days and the residents still make a living by what they used to do in the past and they even pass it down to their next generations. The residents consist of classical dancers, master musicians, singers, skilled craftspeople, cultural workers,​performers, artists, and street vendors. Some former classical dancers or musicians become teachers and some have already retired due to old age but still inherit their talents to their family members as it is in their blood vein.

Over the years, so much has changed ever since the building was built owing to the political transitions and instabilities as well as governmental vision in tremendous urban development. The building in the present days, by many people, is considered as a slum and has been notorious for extreme poverty, drug use, sex work, petty crime, dangerous constructions, and poor sanitation, and ever worse home to criminals from everywhere.

Stretching across two villages in Tonle Bassac commune, White Building has endured sun heat, rain storm and quite erosion through the years, making it look dilapidated from the outside. Some inhabitants have moved out and some new residents have moved in making some renovations and repairing as well as improper maintenance​​ by their own by adding makeshift rooms, floor, roof tops, doors, just to name a few that together puts so much weight on the so-called aging building without authority’s permission, said Khat Narith, Tonle Bassac commune chief.

On July 20, 2015 on an article published by VOD, City Hall spokesperson, Long Dimanche, said to leave or not to leave is all up to the residents; the government only give them a warning for the sake of their safety as the building is at risk and might collapse at any time.

Tonle Bassac commune chief, Khat Narith also added that they do not force the residents to evict but just to send out a notice as to let them be aware of the danger that might happens if they continue to live in the building. They only told the people to leave temporarily to ensure their safety.

However, in response to the government warning asking them to leave either temporarily or permanently, White Building residents refuse to leave without fail as they have no idea where they are going to settle down next.

On the other hand, despite the addressing problems and raising concerns, no future solutions being planned out for the residents of this former iconic White Building just yet.

White Building taken from the other side (Photo: Chanthon)

Contact the author: ngysovanratany@gmail.com

Urban Voice Cambodia

Urban Voice Cambodia