In Cambodia, a Contemporary Home in a Pastoral Setting
SIEM REAP, Cambodia — As a young Cambodian architect in the 1960s, Borath Ros never imagined it would take nearly half a century before he would see his tropical dream house come to fruition. Nor could he have predicted that his son and daughter would help him design it.
Mr. Ros was a student during the height of the modernist, Le Corbusier-inspired, concrete-enamored movement known as New Khmer Architecture, which established Cambodia as a regional beacon of urban design in the decade after the country’s independence from France in 1953.
But in 1972, as the Khmer Rouge rose to power and intellectuals like Mr. Ros and his French wife, Danièle, became targets of the brutal regime, the couple fled Cambodia to build a life in Paris.
It would be 20 years before they would return, eventually taking up residence in 2001 in Siem Reap, the provincial town near the Angkor Wat temples, where Mr. Ros, 68, is a deputy director of the Apsara Authority, the government agency that protects the temples.
When the couple decided to build a home, Mr. Ros sought a style that would combine his influences as an adult — Mies van der Rohe, Louis Kahn — with the classic Cambodian features he recalled from childhood: a country house built on stilts and surrounded by water and lush greenery.
“In the first place, the concept was to build a house that was traditionally Khmer but with a modern interpretation,” Mr. Ros said. “In the second, I wanted to work as a team.”
To execute this vision, the couple turned to the architecture and design firm ASMA, which is run by the couple’s children, Cyril and Lisa, and the French partner Ivan Tizianel, with offices in Paris and Siem Reap.
They embarked on a yearlong design phase in April 2007 for a 4,680-square-foot, three-bedroom home on nearly two acres in Wat Atvear, a rural part of town where cattle graze along dusty russet-hued roads and banana trees hang low. The two-level house was constructed for $150,000, using nearly all local building materials like bamboo, stone and terrazzo. Mr. Ros and his 67-year-old wife, who had taught art history at École du Louvre in Paris, moved into their home in January 2010.
In Cambodia, country homes are traditionally made of wood, shaded by peaked roofs, and raised on columns. The couple’s interpretation of the form skewed minimalist: a rectangular building made of bare concrete and slim slats of mahogany-hued wood raised more than 10 feet off the ground and covered with a flat concrete roof. Following local custom, the kitchen was set apart from the main building; it is contained in a rectangular, 118-square-foot concrete structure nestled into a manmade phnom, or hill.
The result is a contemporary home in a pastoral setting, from the two fish- and lily-laden ponds that flank the home to the wall of bamboo trees that provide privacy and security.
“We wanted to create an exchange between the two elements — the landscape is coming in and mixing with the house,” Lisa Ros said. “Many of the things we did were experiments. We couldn’t have made this house with any client other than our parents.”
For example, the vegetation surrounding the house was left to grow wild so that the house has an unpredictable appearance at any given time. And other than in the bedrooms, the house has neither doors nor security fences.
Visitors to the couple’s home first encounter a facade of 24 woven bamboo panels affixed to individual steel rods that allow the panels to playfully swivel with the wind. A small wooden footbridge flanked by a stone wall crosses a fish-stocked pool and leads to the open-air ground level. This 2,475-square-foot space is defined by 25-foot-tall concrete columns and an expanse of charcoal-gray floor tiles punctuated by sections of gleaming tropical hardwood. A floating terrazzo staircase off the main entrance, bolstered by a single steel beam, is hung with orchids and leads up to the bedrooms.
Much of the couple’s daily life takes place on the ground level — dining, working, reading, entertaining — and, like the entire house, the décor is kept simple. A rectangular table of polished gray terrazzo serves as a daytime dining and work space, while an antique set of wooden chairs and daybed are used for lounging. A lighting fixture that outlines the ceiling was designed by the couple’s daughter, Lisa.
Upstairs, where the bedrooms are found, there is also a television room and a roof topped with grass that has become a good place for star gazing. But in Cambodian culture, only family and close friends enter this area of the home, which is considered private.
A master bedroom of 345 square feet and two guest rooms of 160 square feet each are hidden behind heavy wooden doors and a white wall hung with a single abstract painting by a local artist, Srey Bandol.
In these rooms, the design is also minimalist: built-in bed frames made of white-washed bricks and inlaid with smooth, dark wood panels; rough, unfinished concrete ceilings; white walls and hardwood floors.
“A big part of the décor is the materials themselves and the way they are presented,” Lisa Ros said.
To offset the muted tones in the couple’s bedroom, tailor-made, scarlet-red cotton curtains hang on the 7-foot-tall windows and a small colorful piece of woven Laotian fabric is used as a rug. A platform bed is fitted with a white cotton duvet hand-embroidered with colorful circles in a geometric pattern.
Walls of windows with louvered glass slats overlook the expansive backyard, and the natural light bathes the rooms in a wash of green from the soaring coconut palms, fragrant frangipani trees, and a small electric-green rice paddy.
Even the baths, outfitted with custom-made ceramic tiles in pale shades and polished terrazzo vanities, have garden views.
But nature also plays a starring role indoors. An opening in the roof allows rain to fall in the foyer and the open-air hallway facing the bedrooms, giving a symphonic quality to Cambodia’s riotous rainstorms. With the pattering rain, croaking frogs, crowing roosters and the whistling wind, Ms. Ros said, “ it’s like a concert.”
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ken svay wrote:I like it.
Concrete is a great material and the khmers do it pretty well.
I love the older concrete buildings here.
Ditto; and at 435sq metres works out at approx $350 per sq metre to build. Looks classy.
"Not my circus, not my monkeys" - KiR