19 October, 2021 | By The Room Architecture and Design
Times are changing. While much of Cambodia’s future still feels up in the air, the country’s construction boom continues for the most part unabated. As designers of urban spaces, we are using this moment to stop, reflect and refocus. In the first of a two-part conversation with The Room CEO Pawel Siudecki, we get his take on what’s next for the country, why local firms can compete with international practices and why you can never dream too big
How would you assess the architecture work currently being done in Cambodia?
I think that Cambodia is just at the beginning in terms of the country being built up. My impression is that it’s going extremely fast. Sometimes I think that it’s going too fast because the pace of the development affects not only the real estate industry but everything which is linked to the industry – the educational system, the situation of workers, the financial system, the banking system. Everything is linked to the development of the country and the development of real estate.
What are the challenges of working as an architect in Cambodia?
The challenge is how to reach a certain quality of work – architectural work, design work and construction standards. Things are happening so fast that there’s no time for improvement. No time to do detailed drawings, for example, or to come up with solutions that are not copied from other works or projects. There’s no space for the creative part of our work. It’s important to push boundaries to improve the aesthetics of a space, to educate architects, to promote the values behind good design to the clients as well as the whole of society. It’s important because it affects how people live in the city.
We are also talking about urban development and urban spread – how people commute to work, how much time they spend commuting to work, the quality of the environment in the city, the ventilation, flooding, energy usage… All of these items are related to each other, and improving the community’s understanding of these issues on a large scale would make people’s lives better. It starts with a small group of architects and designers talking to other parties like the government, NGOs, the private sector or other stakeholders and promoting a better, healthy lifestyle for the whole of society. That’s the vision. Some might say that it’s a utopia, that it's unrealistic. But you need such movements, you need such ideas, a dream. Some day they will happen. Starting from the bottom going to the top.
Who will achieve this? Can local architectural firms compete with international design companies?
The market is really young. The development of architectural studios and offices here in the past years has happened at a rapid pace. There are good companies in the market, professional companies, who can actually work at the same level as international consultants. One of our missions is to show local clients that we can do the same or we can even do better than studios based in China or Europe or anywhere else in the world. We have local knowledge so we are aware of the skills, we are aware of local materials, we are aware of how to create climate resilient projects that are locally-specific.
Do you think that attitudes towards local architects are changing?
I think the mindset is shifting. We just need to work hard to prove it to the local clients. And for us it’s been happening – but it’s hard work and it’s not going to happen from day one to day two. It takes time to get the right people on board, good young local architects, the right projects, the right clients, and getting the trust of those clients. And then we need to be able to execute and promote those projects properly.
What advice would you give to young Khmer architects starting out?
There are hundreds of architects graduating every year from all of the universities in Phnom Penh, plus there are students coming back from abroad. There are a lot of architects starting their career every year – but it’s happening too fast. After graduating some of them are opening studios without getting any experience either with a local company or an international company, which would actually help them further their career. Because there’s going to be a limit, a glass ceiling – they’re only going to be able to work up to a certain scale. If Cambodia opens itself to even more foreign investment, local architects will have to be capable of competing with studios that have a larger capacity. To be able to match the quality and standards of international practices, graduating architects need to work and learn from senior architects before opening their own studios. Cambodia offers good opportunities because the industry is so diverse and you can learn from people from different backgrounds.
So, what’s the vision – for yourself and for The Room?
My vision and our vision as a company is to improve design standards, improve how the city looks and educate the client. We want to show them that young local architects can achieve the same quality as international practices. But apart from that it’s also working for the long-term development of the city. That would be great – to team up with other industries, the government, to plan the city for the next 50 years. Obviously we would like to contribute. I’d like to contribute. I’m sure it’s going to happen, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.
This interview is part of our latest campaign, where we are marking a turning point in the life of The Room Design Studio and unpacking our vision for the future. Over the past decade we’ve given a little piece of ourselves to Cambodia. As the country’s cities were reshaped through architecture, we did our bit. We’ve set new standards for quality design. We’ve made a name for ourselves as the technical expert that doesn’t cut corners. We’ve dared to ask for change. Now we want to refocus. As we begin a new chapter by changing our name to The Room Architecture and Design, we’ve got our sights firmly set on the future – cleaner, smarter and stronger communities for not only Cambodia but the wider region too.
Ask questions. Reject the status quo. Dare to have grand ambition and grander ideas – and then make them happen.
THEY ARE HAPPY WITH US
Contact us for more information or to arrange a private presentation