Cambodian Wooden Houses, 1,500 Years of Khmer Heritage
by Darryl Leon Collins & Sokol Hok
Publisher: SIPAR, Phnom Penh
Published: February 2022
Language : English
This splendid book reflects not only fifteen years of in-depth research on Khmer architecture, ancient and modern, but also a personal involvement, since the authors directly experienced the process of dismantling, transporting and re-building a period countryside house from Kompong Cham to Siem Reap. Two others were moved from Aranh and Kralanh.
A comprehensive manual for architects and builders, the richly illustrated publication details the phases and techniques of construction, the species of wood corresponding to specific parts of the house, and what makes the traditional Khmer house perfectly adapted to the climatic context. The Royal Palace architects have brought in their expertise, and in total 10 architect firms and institutions sponsored the book: ArchCam, Group Four, re:edge, cbvh, Five Arc Architect, Heritage Watch, Borey Angkor Landmark Banteay Srey, Norton University, and VISPAN.
But as always in Cambodia, techniques and know-how go hand in hand with a rich array of oral traditions, religious symbolism, legends and superstitions. It starts with the dedication of any new house project to Pisnuka, the mythical master architect of Angkor Wat. Nowhere better than in the building of a wooden house do Buddhist precepts and rural traditions interact and enrich themselves.
What makes the ritualistic aspects of the building process particularly fascinating -- and a real challenge for researchers! -- is that, contrary to the long tradition of Indic architectural treatises, building symbolism in Cambodia remains transmitted mouth-to-ear down to generations of builders, who often don't see the point in expliciting them to the ones who are not in the know.
To the exhaustive documentation used by the authors, we shall just add the following complements:
- Ien Sioen's Treatise on Modern Architecture, established in 1954 and later edited by Madeleine Giteau, gives us precious information on traditional wooden house techniques at the eve of Cambodian independence.
- Botanist Pauline Dy-Phon has established a complete list of wood species used in Cambodian architecture, with their names in Khmer, in transliteration, in English and French, and in the scientific Latin classification.
- The ceremony for the completion of a Cambodian traditional house, ការឡើងផ្ទះ (laeng pteah, literally "climbing to the house"), briefly mentioned pp.155-156, is a beautiful moment involving the neighbors, the local pagoda with the 'achar" and monks, the blessing of the pillows like in the wedding ceremony when a couple is involved, and a feast thrown within the recourses of the family.
Preparing the leang pteah for a house in Peak Sneng, north of Angkor Thom, in December 2021 (photo DR)
- The book will be distributed in Cambodia and abroad. Copies can already be purchased at the National Museum Café in Phnom Penh, and soon at Monument Books.
- Read 'Why Traditional Khmer Houses Matter in Angkor Park', an interview with Apsara Authority vice-director Long Kosal (Khmer Times, 17 Nov. 2020).
- A video report by The Gentry (in Khmer, with English subtitles)
Tags: wooden houses, architecture, forest, trees, botanic, Khmer culture, material culture, carpentry, Cambodian history, history, religion, legends, Pisnukar, climate, anthropology, heritage preservation
About the Authors
Darryl Leon Collins
An art teacher and curator in Australia, with a Master of Arts from the Australian University in Canberra and two years at the Department of Fine Arts and Languages Studies at Sophia University (Tokyo), Darryl Collins (1947, Adelaide) has been living and writing in Cambodia for three decades.
In 2004, he started the Collection Inventory Project as a Cultural consultant for the National Museum of Cambodia. In 2002, he authored with Helen Grant Ross and Hok Sokol the book "Building Cambodia: New Khmer Architecture (1953-1970)", which remains a reference for architects and architecture lovers.
Darryl Collins also actively contributed in the restoration of several emblematic houses around Cambodia, including the Hanchey House in Siem Reap and the 'Chinese House' in Phnom Penh. He is currently completing a vast study on Khmer traditional wooden houses, to be released Feb. 28, 2022 (to preorder the book: +855 126 86 767).
Born in Kompong Cham Province, Hok Sokol is a Cambodian architect and researcher in history of architecture, specializing in traditional wooden building techniques and materials.
After graduating from the Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning (RUFA, Phnom Penh), Sokol joined the ARK Project which led to the publication (with Darryl Collins and Helen Grant Ross) of 'Building Cambodia: New Khmer Architecture 1953-1970' (2006).
A certified ASEAN architect, he has contributed to the sudy 'Wooden Architecture of Cambodia: A Disappearing Heritage' (CKS, 2006), and more recently has done a survey of traditional wooden houses in Cambodia''s Northeast, with the support of the Department of Conservation and the Ministry of the Royal Palace.
In 2022, he released with Darryl Collins 'Cambodian Wooden Houses, 1,500 Years of Khmer Heritage', the result of some fifteen years of research and direct experience in that field (Sipar, 2021).