Phnom Penh’s iconic White Building was opened in 1963, providing 468 apartments to house some of the Cambodian capital’s quickly growing population. The building formed part of an ambitious and rather fantastic, socially centred city development plan spearheaded by then King Norodom Sihanouk. Today, with money calling the shots more than thoughts of community, the building faces the threat of demolition by developers keen to cash in on its prime location.
The building, designed by Cambodian architect Lu Ban Hap and Russian architect Vladimir Bodiansky, was part of the Vann Molyvann-designed Bassac River Front cultural complex, which sprawled along reclaimed land skirting the Bassac River. Thanks to the Khmer Rouge rise to power in 1975, the overall complex was never completed, but the apartments were filled.
After the Khmer Rouge downfall, residents returned, some old, some new. Under Cambodian law, if you can prove residence for a certain period, you are entitled to ownership, so the people living here now are the owners, and legally entitled to be here.
And today the apartment complex is packed to the rafters with life. Shops line the ground floor, and families are packed into the modestly sized apartments.