Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Going back to school

The corridors of the Institute of Technology on Russian Boulevard
The architecture tour I took a couple of weekends ago, where we visited three university campuses from the Sixties and early Seventies, in the company of architecture graduates working with KA Tours, was an interesting look at these buildings but didn't quite live up to the wow factor I was hoping for. Part of it was the lack of access to certain nooks and crannies within the campuses and part of it was the size of the group, which was a few too many. Half a dozen would've allowed us to hear all the information being disseminated and would've been more manageable. Nevertheless, I learned quite a bit about the Institute of Foreign Languages, which I've mentioned in other posts, as well as the Institute of Technology and the Royal University of Phnom Penh's Faculty of Science. The first campus we visited on Russian Boulevard was the 1962-64 constructed Institute of Technology (or Higher Technical Institute of Khmer Soviet Friendship to give it the full name), which was designed by Russian architects with Soviet funding and continued that theme with instructors teaching in only Russian and later French. The original buildings were two three and four-storey blocks with airy classrooms and corridors behind louvered screens that cover the facade of the buildings, and are pretty much unchanged since their construction, containing departments teaching engineering in civil, rural, industrial, chemical and electrical practices. After the Khmer Rouge period, the ITC reopened in 1981 under Russian influence once more, though switching to French support from 1993. The Soviet architects understood the equatorial climate and designed the buildings accordingly; the south-facing walls use sunscreens along the corridors with horizontal concrete louvres, and cross-ventilation ensures air flows through the corridors to act as a buffer to the midday sun. The moat that once separated the buildings from Russian Boulevard is now used for sports activities and a motorcycle park.
One of the original decorated pillars at the Technology Institute
The outside walls of one of the Technology buildings
The horizontal concrete louvres on the facade of the Technology Institute
The light-filled, airy corridors of the ITC
After our visit to the Languages center, we walked across to the Science Faculty, which is a mid-Sixties designed set of buildings by the the French architectural partnership of Leroy and Mondet, who also designed the Independence Hotel in Sihanoukville. Known as the Centre Universitaire du Sangkum Reastr Niyum, and now part of the Royal University of Phnom Penh, the main buildings almost defy gravity by resting on slender supporting columns that allow the passage of air to circulate around the structures. Recently renovated, behind the main building are the now disused swimming pool, whilst in front is the water-filled lake and the impressive domed theatre. We walked around on top of the main building to get a good overview of the campus but access to the domed theatre wasn't possible and was a common theme running through the tour. So room for improvements to be made but full marks to KA Tours for putting on five different tours around the city, of which the university buildings tour was just one.
The front entrance at the Science Faculty
The undulating roof of the domed theatre at the Science Faculty
The frontage of the theatre building, which was closed to visitors
One of the outside staircases at the Science Faculty
The now disused swimming pool and diving board that sits behind the main university building
A look at the impressive recently renovated theatre structure at the University of Phnom Penh from the top floor of the main building

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