Cambodia's Architecture Tested by Corona

How the Kingdom's designers might cope with a pandemic

COVID-19 is the new reality – for everyone. As many industrial nations begin the dreaded transition to working remotely, so must less-noticed countries follow suit. In the heart of Phnom Penh, an abundance of both international and local businesses are heeding global health warnings and setting up makeshift offices at home. Cambodia’s capital of 1.5 million must now navigate this unprecedented disruption to regular work life.

At the foreground of this shift, and the test of Cambodia’s resilience, is the country’s enormous number of young people. Co-working spaces and home-grown coffee shops thrive and burst with the fresh energy of the nation’s newest entrepreneurs, freelancers and innovators that have grand aims to transform every industry.

With this pandemic already sparking broad conversations over the future of design, for Cambodia the concept and function of space itself has already been questioned, broken and remolded by its own budding community of creatives in recent years. Community-driven contemporary design has changed Cambodia’s urban and public spaces, its offices, its schools, its hospitals. Green spaces, sustainability and human environments that are more comfortable and livable are only some of the values subscribed to by architecture companies wanting to shape Phnom Penh as a metropolitan hub.

A surge in condominiums and other high-rise development projects is helping to reimagine the idea of the traditional, inter-generational home. Modern workspaces follow global trends that love bright, open plans yet must account for challenges unique to Cambodia, from heritage preservation to the tropical climate. How the concept of home and office will merge in the coming weeks and months is unclear.

Coronavirus presents fresh opportunities for young designers

At their core, both architecture and interior design are multi-disciplinary, collaborative exercises. Creative industries have always been ahead of the tech game – from finding new ways to put ideas to paper to sharing visions with colleagues and clients. For us this could mean anything from hand sketches to more complex 3D models. Effective digital exchange is becoming more important than ever.

While this jolt will surely test the flexibility of a nation pushing itself forward at breakneck speeds, Cambodia’s young workforce is already an expert at adapting itself for a present defined by ever-updating technology and far-reaching digital networks. These uncharted waters will hopefully become a blank slate ripe for new inspiration and new creation.

We, as others, are committed to connection and collaboration in a time of social distancing. While The Room is only beginning to adjust to working from home, our spirit remains as strong as ever thanks to our dedicated, cohesive team who do not shy away from challenges.

It might be back to the drawing board, but only time will tell what happens next.

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