Ladder in Bakong

Ladder in Bakong

Every night where I live they advertise on television the new aluminium multipurpose extenda-flex ladder – which is really 28 ladders in one! The thing is, I can almost guarantee that none of these 28 ladders would be much help if you were trying to ascend a 30 foot palm tree in order to bring down some coconuts.

Another case of bamboo and traditional artisanship to the rescue.

I took this photo virtually outside the gate of the SOC in Bakong.

For other examples of Khmer architecture and craftsmanship:

Is this Cambodia’s most precious resource?

From the air we see these rice paddies as watery fields.

From the air we see these rice paddies as watery fields. But the rice economy relies in equal measure on another resource.

Every day hundreds of dump trucks, open topped Chinese vehicles that look they were inspired by Mongolian fortress design, ply the roads of Cambodia, delivering their mountains of cargo. It suddenly struck me, one afternoon, that this is the stuff that the Cambodian economy rests on. Not coal. Not iron ore. Not bauxite.  But sand.

Sand makes the difference in a land of which 75% lies within one meter of the water level: of being just one typhoon away from being submerged or emergent.

When you buy a property in Cambodia the first thing you do is put up a wall, and then build up your property with truckloads of sand.  This will prevent flooding. It will allow your trees to grow. Water won’t pond after a heavy storm, and mosquitoes won’t breed.

Sand builds the walkways that rice farmers use to navigate their paddy fields. Many of these walkways are hundreds of years old, and the work of predecessors who knew the power of irrigation, but also the efficiency of roadways wide enough to carry the harvest.

Sand forms the understructure of the Number 6 Highway that forms the economic spinal column of Cambodia – a two lane blacktop road that, given the floodplains it travels over, is a greater engineering marvel than most of us realise. How much of this goes back to raised sandbanks built a thousand years ago during the Angkor years? There are clues along the roadway, for example the ancient bridges near Dam Daek 30 kms East of Siem Reap.

Sand. Unstable sand. Many of us were raised on the parable of the wise man who built his home on rock, and the fool who built his house on sand. Yet here is a whole Kingdom, resting on the stuff and – so far – proving pretty wise about it. Those trucks keep moving it around, one step ahead of the next typhoon.

Architecture Competition – Cambodia

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This just in from BackStage World Architecture News – whom I hope are not unhappy about me borrowing the image above.  A recent contest was held inviting international architects and students to submit a design for a house costing no more than $US2,000 in Cambodia.  

If you knew the price of timber there you’d be put off from entering – it is extremely pricey, and loggers caught trafficking illegal lumber face big fines and the confiscation of their truck. Yet judging by recent satellite photos, Cambodia is rapidly losing its timber reserves.

But no mind – the architecture competition presents some interesting solutions. I like the student entry pictured above because it borrows heavily on the local style which, I reckon, has evolved to meet all the climatic elements including heat and floods, as well as ground-based snakes etcetera. I hope Habitat for Humanity, who helped judge the contest, adopt some of these winning designs.