Rising from the dust: Cambodia’s building boom

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Construction works at the banks of the Tonle Sap River, Phnom Penh. Photo © Arno Maierbrugger

In 2006, the dusty Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh was no more than a sprawling Khmer village with a patchy electricity supply, poorly lit streets and a population still visibly recuperating from years of soul-crushing genocide. The largest building in the city was a seven-story hotel, no Western brands were present and brown outs were as common as traffic jams with oxen.

By Justin Calderon

Now Phnom Penh is in the midst of a building boom: 200 new buildings over 10 floors were approved for construction in 2011, including the 39-story Vattanac Capital Tower, said to be complete by the end of 2012 (though most likely to be delayed into 2013), making it the largest building in Cambodia. KFC outlets dot the city, the first Western fast food franchise to open up in Cambodia (not surprising seeing its astronomical success elsewhere in Asia), and Dairy Queen is available at the new Phnom Penh International Airport, as well on the riverside, where locals rub shoulders with foreign expats and travelers at haute wine bars.

Although fears of becoming too reliant on the rising tide Chinese investment, which came in to the tune of $8.8 billion in 2011, Phnom Penh’s new skyline is being driven by local wealth as well. Both the OCIC Building and Vattanac Capital Tower are funded by local investors. Vattanac Bank invested around $100 million into the project and is now starting to market it via various prestigious international property firms, and Vattanac Properties, the projects developer, hopes that the new symbol of the city with spur similar developments in Bangkok, Singapore, and Ho Chi Minh City.

The quickly reshaping skyline has ushered in a number of high-star hotels, such as the Raffles and Sofitel, which have allowed the city to cater to the needs of high-level visitors. Phnom Penh recently hosted the 21st ASEAN Summit, held in junction with the East Asia Summit, with heads of state participating from 14 Asian countries, as well as Australia and the US.

Though not completely concomitant, a visible rise in wealth is also becoming evident, especially among younger Cambodians who now sling around the latest Apple device, an unheard of luxury just a few years ago.

Vattanac Tower: Plenty of office space for sale and rent. Photo © Arno Maierbrugger

Amid the clanking din, however, some worries have surfaced regarding the quality of the up and coming structures. Most Cambodian architects follow inferior building standards that don’t come close to matching those of Japan or even Russia, experts fear, and follow programmes in the US that might not be preparing students enough to design buildings resilient to earthquakes.

Though Cambodia has never been directly hit by an earthquake, four years ago southern Vietnam was rattled by a high-magnitude quake that was felt in Phnom Penh, prompting experts to question whether or not new high-rise residential and office spaces will be capable of withstanding larger shocks.

Construction experts have noted that at currently levels of quality, buildings in Cambodia would be leveled if hit by a quake measuring 5 or more on the Richter Scale, compared to similar damage dealt to more developed countries who experience a level 8 or higher.

An estimated 90 per cent of buildings in Phnom Penh are not built into the hard layer of earth, which is located 25 to 47 meters below the earth because of the soft land on which the city is built. In comparison, the soft and poor soil of Bangkok requires foundations to be drilled to twice the depth. Buildings in this majority, ranging from older apartment complexes, traditional markets and even hotels, are the first that will collapse in the event of an earthquake.

Construction investors in Phnom Penh have been advised to study the geological surveys of the location they are building to access where the hard layer of earth is and how deep drilling has to go to make the foundation stable.

Larger projects, such as the Vattanac Capital Tower, however, have been reported to take higher-quality measures, hopefully setting the precedent for upped standards in Cambodian engineering.

 

 

 

 

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

Construction works at the banks of the Tonle Sap River, Phnom Penh. Photo © Arno Maierbrugger

In 2006, the dusty Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh was no more than a sprawling Khmer village with a patchy electricity supply, poorly lit streets and a population still visibly recuperating from years of soul-crushing genocide. The largest building in the city was a seven-story hotel, no Western brands were present and brown outs were as common as traffic jams with oxen.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Construction works at the banks of the Tonle Sap River, Phnom Penh. Photo © Arno Maierbrugger

In 2006, the dusty Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh was no more than a sprawling Khmer village with a patchy electricity supply, poorly lit streets and a population still visibly recuperating from years of soul-crushing genocide. The largest building in the city was a seven-story hotel, no Western brands were present and brown outs were as common as traffic jams with oxen.

By Justin Calderon

Now Phnom Penh is in the midst of a building boom: 200 new buildings over 10 floors were approved for construction in 2011, including the 39-story Vattanac Capital Tower, said to be complete by the end of 2012 (though most likely to be delayed into 2013), making it the largest building in Cambodia. KFC outlets dot the city, the first Western fast food franchise to open up in Cambodia (not surprising seeing its astronomical success elsewhere in Asia), and Dairy Queen is available at the new Phnom Penh International Airport, as well on the riverside, where locals rub shoulders with foreign expats and travelers at haute wine bars.

Although fears of becoming too reliant on the rising tide Chinese investment, which came in to the tune of $8.8 billion in 2011, Phnom Penh’s new skyline is being driven by local wealth as well. Both the OCIC Building and Vattanac Capital Tower are funded by local investors. Vattanac Bank invested around $100 million into the project and is now starting to market it via various prestigious international property firms, and Vattanac Properties, the projects developer, hopes that the new symbol of the city with spur similar developments in Bangkok, Singapore, and Ho Chi Minh City.

The quickly reshaping skyline has ushered in a number of high-star hotels, such as the Raffles and Sofitel, which have allowed the city to cater to the needs of high-level visitors. Phnom Penh recently hosted the 21st ASEAN Summit, held in junction with the East Asia Summit, with heads of state participating from 14 Asian countries, as well as Australia and the US.

Though not completely concomitant, a visible rise in wealth is also becoming evident, especially among younger Cambodians who now sling around the latest Apple device, an unheard of luxury just a few years ago.

Vattanac Tower: Plenty of office space for sale and rent. Photo © Arno Maierbrugger

Amid the clanking din, however, some worries have surfaced regarding the quality of the up and coming structures. Most Cambodian architects follow inferior building standards that don’t come close to matching those of Japan or even Russia, experts fear, and follow programmes in the US that might not be preparing students enough to design buildings resilient to earthquakes.

Though Cambodia has never been directly hit by an earthquake, four years ago southern Vietnam was rattled by a high-magnitude quake that was felt in Phnom Penh, prompting experts to question whether or not new high-rise residential and office spaces will be capable of withstanding larger shocks.

Construction experts have noted that at currently levels of quality, buildings in Cambodia would be leveled if hit by a quake measuring 5 or more on the Richter Scale, compared to similar damage dealt to more developed countries who experience a level 8 or higher.

An estimated 90 per cent of buildings in Phnom Penh are not built into the hard layer of earth, which is located 25 to 47 meters below the earth because of the soft land on which the city is built. In comparison, the soft and poor soil of Bangkok requires foundations to be drilled to twice the depth. Buildings in this majority, ranging from older apartment complexes, traditional markets and even hotels, are the first that will collapse in the event of an earthquake.

Construction investors in Phnom Penh have been advised to study the geological surveys of the location they are building to access where the hard layer of earth is and how deep drilling has to go to make the foundation stable.

Larger projects, such as the Vattanac Capital Tower, however, have been reported to take higher-quality measures, hopefully setting the precedent for upped standards in Cambodian engineering.

 

 

 

 

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