Preserving Memory, Engaging Community: Adaptive Reuse of The White Building in Phnom Penh

Preserving Memory, Engaging Community: Adaptive Reuse of The White Building in Phnom Penh

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

The future of The Building and its 2,200+ inhabitants is in limbo. Exclusion from systematic land titling has left the residents are under threat of eviction, while years of disrepair contribute to many considering the building an eyesore, despite its evident architectural value. This project aims to initiate a dialogue on how The Building can be preserved and the eviction of its residents prevented by proposing options for adaptive reuse of the iconic building. To this end, we will work with a variety of actors, including the community, architects, civil society, the business sector, and local authorities, in an effort to propose win-win solutions where The Building at least partly maintains its original function as low cost housing.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

There are over 2200 people living in The Building. The residents work as vendors, construction workers, motor taxis, civil servants and artists. There are also several arts projects and a community school in The Building. Please see attached video. (N.B. video not made by(current) project members.) The Building is in danger of being demolished and its residents evicted. This already happened to the Dey Krahom community next door, while most other 1960s buildings from Vann Molyvann's original Bassac plan have either been demolished or renovated beyond recognition. Without serious efforts to preserve The Building, its residents will lose their homes and Phnom Penh will lose an iconic part of its urban architectural heritage.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Phnom Penh is developing fast. New high rises, luxury apartments and condominiums are erected almost daily and beginning to attract the bigger regional players in development. At the same the lack of an urban masterplan, few building controls and a worrying trend of forced evictions of poorer communities is raising many questions about the sustainability of the city’s growth. As Phnom Penh gentrifies, the city centre is becoming a playground for the rich and powerful, while the poor are pushed to the capital’s unserviced outskirts. The fate of The Building is a metaphor for the future of Cambodia’s capital. Will human rights and architectural heritage be respected, or will short-term profit-making lead the way? The Building was constructed in the 1960s as part of Vann Molyvann's ambitious plan for the Bassac area. Originally developed as low cost housing for civil servants in the Ministry of Culture, it is now home to some 2,200 residents and retains the artistic edge of its initial inhabitants. Through this project, we assert that all of Phnom Penh's inhabitants have an equal right to the city. We will show that The Building can be rehabilitated, and more than that, turned into a flagship urban development. We will address issues on different levels: social, heritage, economic, political. The result will be a strategy with a strong vision that can guide negotiations between the different stakeholders.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

This project aims to initiate dialogue on the future of The Building through developing viable plans for its preservation. We will engage with actors at all levels of society - the community, local authorities, developers, architects, heritage experts, and businesses. Long-term success will consist of preventing the demolition of The Buidling and the eviction of its current inhabitants. In the short term, success will consist of having initiated a serious dialogue and discussion on the future of The Building, which also raises wider questions about the sustainability of current urban development in Phnom Penh.
About You
Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT)
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT)

Organization Phone

+855 15 552 805

Organization Address

PO Box 174, Phnom Penh

Organization Country

, PP

Country where this project is creating social impact

, PP

How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Idea phase

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

A group of individuals with a variety of skills is behind this project. What brings us together is our passion for equitable urban development, and the huge potential we see in renovating The Building as opposed to watching it being demolished and its residents evicted. Achieving our goal is not about an individual, it is about a wide range of stakeholders coming together.

As a group, we inspire each other. Meas KimSeng,the founder of STT and a veteran of the Cambodian urban sector, brings a vast amount of knowledge, enthusiasm, and experience to the table. Hallam Goad, a landscape architect with over a decade of experience in Cambodia brings historical perspective and vision. Giacomo Butte and Eva Lloyd bring architectural vision and direction. Nora Lindstrom brings management skills and a vast network of contacts. As the project matures, we hope our group will expand, with community activists in particular joining us.

Social Impact
How many people have been impacted by your project?

1,001 - 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?


What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

Urban development in Phnom Penh is characterised by money and power struggles. Urban planning is next to inexistent while developers are given free reign. The land and housing rights of vulnerable sectors of society are disregarded in the rush to develop.

The greatest barrier to the success of this project is consequently government opposition due to desire to demolish the Building and sell the land to a developer and/or lack of interest in exploring a different model of development. Other barriers include: lack of community support due to little faith in project implementation, and difficulties in finding an interested developer. The issues must be addressed by developing a genuine dialogue guided by credible, multi-layered plans for the preservation of The Building.

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

First, a committee for running the project will be established with members from a wide range of groups and disciplines. The project will then acquire a space in The Building from which the project is run. Following discussions with a wide range of interest groups, proposals will be developed that will form the basis of a dialogue on the future of The Building. This dialogue is expected to take at least a year, after which work will start following an agreed upon development plan.

For each selection, please explain the financial and non-financial support from each

Individuals support the project through participating in advocacy campaigns. The community supports the project by giving their time to develop the project.

Foundations and initial investment from private enterprise would be necessary to start the process of transformation. What could attract them is the fact that The Building is already well known so this could turn into a good promotion for them.

The project also is aiming to reach sustainability on economical level. This aspect should appeal investors.

NGOs role would be to facilitate the communication between government, developer on one side and communities. To make sure that community members are included into the plan and can join or receive fair compensation in case they would decide to move.

Once created, customers and new renters will be providing the financial income necessary to start the renovation. It is important that this operation creates a certain appeal for The Building. In this way commercial activities taking place inside will be successful.

How do you plan to grow and/or diversify your base of support in the next three years?

As the project develops, the support base changes in accordance with the needs of the project. The advocacy campaign will aim to muster society-wide (non-financial) support for the project.

Please select your areas of intervention in the home improvement market

Design, Property rights, Income generation, Urban development, Citizen/community participation, Other (please specify).

Is your innovation addressing barriers in the home improvement/progressive housing market? If so, please describe in detail your mechanisms of intervention

Other: Architectural heritage
There are currently no low-cost housing projects in Phnom Penh and poor residents are increasingly pushed to the city's outskirts where services and employment opportunities are limited. This project aims to develop innovative and sustainable low cost housing in the city centre, thus promoting more equitable urban development where everyone has a right to live in the city.

Are you currently collaborating with private companies, or have you partnered with private companies in the past? With which companies?

Not yet at this stage.

Please describe in detail the nature of the partnership(s)
Select the unit(s) with which the partnership was formed