I get knocked down…

June 4, 2013

In one of my very first posts here, some 18 months ago, I mentioned that I’d found the house I wanted to live in, and that I aimed to buy it one day.

She should have been mine...

She should have been mine…




Phnom Penh’s heritage under threat


One of Phnom Penh’s most beautiful French colonial villas may be under threat of destruction, after its owners put it, and, more importantly, the land it stands on, up for sale.

The canary-yellow house sits on Street 178, across from the National Museum. Originally built as a royal villa between 1900 and 1910, it was the home of the famous No Problem Café during the UNTAC Mission in Cambodia between 1991 and 1994.

In recent years it has hosted art shows and has been used as the Cambodian offices of its owners, a French property fund which owns several pieces of land around the capital and on the coast.

The house and its land is on the market for $14 million, and comes with planning consent for a new seven-storey structure on the site.

However Etienne Chenevier, a director of owners City Star, denied that the group planned to knock down the villa. “I strongly deny it. Why would we want to knock down our own building? If you say we will, I will sue you.” [And he did. How did that work out for you, Etienne? Did you get your money’s worth? You worthless, cheap, aggressive huckster.]

But others disagree. “The old houses are disappearing” Anne Lemaistre, head of Unesco’s Cambodia office told the London Financial Times recently. “Over the past 10 years, at least 50 per cent along Norodom Avenue have disappeared. One remarkable house, which had become run down, was demolished during a holiday, when no one was around to notice. With land being more valuable than property, developers prefer to destroy these houses and build condominiums. Laws should be enacted that oblige owners to preserve heritage properties or, if they cannot afford to, to sell them to those who can.”

Dougald O’Reilly of Heritage Watch, agrees: “It is truly a shame that permission has been granted to destroy such a grand old structure, and, further that permission to construct a seven-storey building in its place has been given. I would venture this action will destroy the character of the neighbourhood.”

O’Reilly says he has been concerned about Phnom Penh’s heritage for many years, “as there has been a trend since the late 1990s to tear down old buildings to erect newer more profitable properties. Clearly one cannot stand in the way of development, but there is, I would argue, a responsibility on the part of the authorities to try to retain some of the city’s heritage narrative.”

Calls to the Ministry of Culture and the Mayor of Phnom Penh’s office were not returned.

Professor Michael Tomlan of the Historic Preservation Planning Department of Cornell University says other Asian countries have been more respectful of their colonial properties.

“Surveys of Bangkok and Saigon have done a considerable amount to raise the public awareness, and it has become commonplace to note the “French districts” in those cities, and similar French concession areas in Chinese cities.  In most of these instances, however, there is a functioning local historic property and district commission that assists the planning commission in these cases.  Cambodia is behind its regional peers, without a doubt. It should make an effort to catch up.”

He adds that “the more of these structures that are demolished, the more the city becomes an anonymous collection of boxes of varying types and sizes, often more dependent on automobiles and SUVs that clog the streets.”

Architect Geoffrey Pyle, who has worked extensively in Phnom Penh, agrees: “I think the historic buildings are, of course, valuable in heritage terms, and the best ones should be protected through the legal system.”

He goes on: “I would support any local initiatives to develop a system of protecting particular buildings, whilst seeking opportunities for funding or technical advice for owners. I believe there would be generally quite a lot of support amongst Cambodian society.”

Pyle says there were rumours that there “was a proposal to build a seven storey building next to the villa in question and the villa would be kept. That, in principle, could be a good solution, where the value of the land can be realised and can support conservation. It is nice to have gardens around old villas and in some cases that should be argued for, but one has to be practical too.”

Local property expert Sunny Soo agrees: “It is good to protect old historic buildings – they bring in tourists and so on, but obviously we’ve seen many of these buildings knocked down, in favour of further development. But I don’t see much hope for this one. It is just too small to last. And, really, we’re just talking about sentimental value. Very soon it’ll be forgotten.”

Source from Phnom Penh Post