Cambodia Investment Review

EuroCham Tall Buildings Forum 2024: Cambodia Faces Challenges in Preserving Tradition Amid Rapid Urbanization

EuroCham Tall Buildings Forum 2024: Cambodia Faces Challenges in Preserving Tradition Amid Rapid Urbanization

Vijian Paramasivam

Cambodia is at a crossroads, grappling with the need to balance its rich cultural heritage with the pressures of modern development. The influx of contemporary architecture is reshaping the landscape of cities like Phnom Penh, bringing both opportunities and challenges. While modern skyscrapers symbolize progress, they also threaten to erode the traditional lifestyle that has long defined Cambodian society.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction, Say Samal, highlighted the importance of inclusive urban planning at EuroCham Cambodia’s “Tall Building Forum 2024.” He emphasized that future city designs should cater to the needs of all residents, ensuring a high quality of life. “We want a city where everyone can live, they can have their own niche where they can find a decent job, put food on the table, and their kids can go to a quality school,” he said.

Samal stressed the need for public involvement in urban planning, noting, “Everyone should have a say in how the city is designed and planned. Our identity was lost during the Khmer Rouge, and we need to build it back ourselves. We stepped out of the foxhole and we are building a new society, setting new values, and creating a new way of life.”

Rapid Urbanization Also Brings Significant Challenges

Phnom Penh’s skyline has rapidly transformed, with a December 2022 report from the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction revealing the construction of 2,534 high-rise buildings over two decades. Of these, 1,674 are in Phnom Penh, 685 in Sihanoukville, 131 in Banteay Meanchey, and 43 in other locations. The proliferation of high-rises reflects the city’s rapid urbanization but also brings significant challenges.

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Seng Vannak, Chief of Administration of Phnom Penh Capital Hall, commented on the cultural shift, stating, “Phnom Penh is an old city that has been rehabilitated into a high-rise city and it is changing rapidly. Nearly 1,800 buildings with more than 10 stories have been built in Phnom Penh. Today, City Hall collects 3,000 tonnes of garbage, and we need to manage frequent floods.”

EuroCham Tall Buildings Fourm at Sofitel Phnom Penh on May 30, 2024.

The rapid development has outpaced the city’s infrastructure, with issues like inadequate public transportation, flood mitigation, and garbage disposal becoming increasingly pressing. Town planners argue that while high-rise buildings are necessary in space-constrained cities, their development must be carefully managed.

Serge Pak, CEO of Beton Block and Pave, suggested that high-rises can be beneficial if developed thoughtfully. “There are many opportunities in developing high-rise buildings like better use of land consumption leaves more room for green space, which is very engaging for the community,” he said. Pak pointed to Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands project as a successful example, noting its $3 billion revenue in 2023 and annual attraction of 45 million visitors.

Creating Inclusive Communities In High-Rise Developments

Asia is home to some of the world’s tallest buildings, with 32 out of 40 buildings over 400 meters located in the region. Thierry Tea, Vice-President of OCIC Group and CEO of Negocia Capital, emphasized the importance of creating inclusive communities in high-rise developments. “Cambodians traditionally don’t like tall buildings but now there are tall condos and offices everywhere. The question is how to keep efficiency and productivity at the workplace. We need to strike a balance and cater to the young Cambodian population who need more hospitals, education institutions, green space, and affordable homes,” he said.

Read More: Phnom Penh Real Estate Market Shows Signs of Stabilization in Q1 2024, After Large Market Correction in 2023: CBRE Cambodia

EuroCham Tall Buildings Fourm at Sofitel Phnom Penh on May 30, 2024.

The concept of a “15-minute city,” where residents can access essential amenities within a short walk or bike ride, is gaining traction as a model for sustainable urban development. Prosperous cities like Dubai are experimenting with this concept to improve the quality of life in urban areas. Mohammed Adib, Chief Design Officer at Dewan Architects and Engineers, stressed the importance of community-centric designs.

“It is crazy in Dubai, there are hundreds of buildings. It is a process of development of a country. When we look at designing a building, we think of the communities, and how they live and work. We need a lot of common areas so we don’t lose the community,” he said.

Better Quality, Energy Efficiency, And Sustainability In Real Estate

EuroCham Chairman Tassilo Brinzer echoed the sentiment, highlighting a shift towards better quality, energy efficiency, and sustainability in real estate. “The real estate and construction sector is going through a transition phase, but as this forum shows, there’s optimism and a renewed focus on better quality, better energy efficiency, and increased sustainability overall for tall buildings and their surrounding infrastructures,” he said.

RHSP Managing Director Benjamin Warner advocated for a mix of high-rise and low-rise buildings to create a walkable environment that integrates with the city and its surroundings. He emphasized the role of political will in successful urban planning, stating, “It requires strong and robust political intervention to do it, it’s not just about master plans and architects, it is about politicians that make this happen.”

EuroCham Tall Buildings Fourm at Sofitel Phnom Penh on May 30, 2024.

As Cambodia navigates its path to modernization, the challenge remains to preserve its cultural identity while embracing the benefits of urban development. The construction boom in Phnom Penh and other cities underscores the need for thoughtful planning and community involvement to ensure that the rapid development does not come at the expense of the country’s rich heritage.

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