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Ministry praises redevelopment of White Building as ‘model for future’

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The Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction has released a book heralding the redevelopment process behind the iconic White Building, demolished in 2017. Photo supplied

Ministry praises redevelopment of White Building as ‘model for future’

The Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction has released a book detailing the process of development at the site of Phnom Penh’s White Building leading to the iconic structure’s demolition in 2017.

Minster of Land Management Chea Sophara said he regarded the book as offering a model for future redevelopment projects.

The 87-page book, Implementation Experiences of the White Building Redevelopment, details the process, from the start of negotiations with all 492 families living there, the agreement between residents and the developers, and finally the famous structure’s demolition.

“I hope this book . . . which contains complete information about the mechanisms and procedures, the process of task implementation, and finally the demolishing process of the White Building can be used as a document detailing the model to be used in other similar redevelopment projects."

“[I hope it] can be seen as a documentation of experience for relevant officials in the future,” read the book’s preface by Sophara.

The book’s introduction outlines something of the White Building’s history. Construction began in 1961 on a low-cost housing option for low- to middle-class families, and it was completely abandoned when the Khmer Rouge cleared Phnom Penh of its residents in 1975.

When the genocidal regime fell four years later, people returned to live in the building, which was now in a dilapidated condition after being left unused for so long.

The book recounts how, in late 2016, the government was concerned the building was structurally unsound and therefore unfit for residents to live in.

A solution was found in cooperation with Japanese real estate company Arakawa Co to develop the area.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A woman stands next to electricity meters at the White Building in July 2015. Photo supplied

The company has said it plans to construct a 21-storey building at a cost of some $80 million. Construction has begun.

Based on ‘good governance’

The introduction says the book was useful for relevant stakeholders in solving housing problems for poor people and those with low incomes, especially as the mechanisms and procedures used were based on good governance.

The book concludes that the successful solution for White Building residents came from four factors – Sophara’s strong leadership, clear and effective working structures, procedures based on transparency, equity and equality between residents and the developers, and the involvement of relevant stakeholders.

It says the redevelopment of the White Building reflected the good investment environment of a Cambodia that is peaceful and politically stable.

Former White Building resident Sreng Pov, who now lives in the capital’s Meanchey district, said on Tuesday that she appreciated the government’s efforts in finding the right solution for all White Building residents, with an acceptable offer they could accept voluntarily and without feeling forced.

“I thank [the government] for finding the right solution. They made an offer without forcing people to accept it, and we voluntarily left the building without fear."

“The building was old, and Sophara cared about us and looked for a solution for us by cooperating with [the development] partner."

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
All 493 families living in the White Building have accepted compensation packages and vacated to make way for a new high-rise. Pha Lina

“This means the residents now have proper houses, and I thank him for this,” she said.

Pov said the compensation process in the White Building redevelopment was smoother than in other projects.

Ministry of Land Management spokesperson Seng Lot said Implementation Experiences of the White Building Redevelopment was published in September.

The White Building, often mistaken as by visionary Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann, was actually designed by compatriot Lu Ban Hap and Russian-born architect Vladimir Bodiansky. It was inaugurated in 1963 as the “Municipal Apartments”.

The project was part of the urban transformation undertaken by then King Norodom Sihanouk following independence from the French. Archival images of the White Building show it flanked by manicured lawns on both sides, with the Molyvann-designed National Theatre, which is still standing, on the Riverside.

Molyvann, who passed away in 2017 aged 90, was foremost of the architects of the optimistic post-independence “Golden Era” who developed the architecture of the period, known as New Khmer Architecture.

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