The White building in Phnom Pehn was home to hundreds of families, and although the building had seen better days in terms of its structural qualities, it had remained an iconic architectural feature of Cambodia’s capital city.
Built as an experiment in low-cost social housing for the capital, the White Building has been sitting in the heart of Phnom Penh since the 1960s. It was emptied along with the rest of the city during the Khmer Rouge regime. As people returned to the city, some people returned to the white building and other new residents moved in. The community was colorful and vibrant, home to low paid civil servants, street traders and artists.
The architecture was unique, inspired by the Khmer rural way of life which incorporated shaded and open living areas to maximize air flow and cooling.
Altough the first impressions of the building were of dilapidation and a certain wariness as a tourist, it soon became apparent that there was nothing to fear. The locals were busy getting food ready for their street trading stalls, some were happily on their way to their evening’s work. When we made enquirers about how to access the building we were greeted in the usual Khmer way of smiles, nods, and directions given by way of pointing and laughing.
When we went upstairs, two young boys laughed and shouted, the smaller of the two produced a toy pistol and made ‘Bam Bam’ gunshot noises. An embarrassed young mother ran to haul him away, “sorry, sorry, he play” through laughter.
The city is undergoing huge change with high rise developments popping up almost over night, every night, much of it by foreign development companies. Land evictions are a big problem in Cambodia. In 2016 when I visited, the fate of the White Building was in doubt, as the government had deemed the structure unsafe. Conservationists in favor of keeping he building argued that it was an iconic architectural building that should be preserved. By summer 2018, however, the building had been emptied of residents to make way for demolition and a new development.
More information about The White Building on the link below:
Below are links to Phnom Pehn Post articles about the White Building