Good design should be for everyone!
I always believe in this quotation of mine. I keep asking myself “What I can possibly do as an architect for everyone?” Obviously, I can not run for an office, be one of the MP who can shape the policy, as I hate to play the political game! So what can I do then?
When I was in my architecture school, I had one dream, to become a good architect, but one incident has changed my perception forever. In my fourth year, I was hired by my senior colleague to be his draftsman. He was commissioned a small project working on the rented house conversion to a warehouse in a community in the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Before we began, we had to do a site survey in order to see what we could construct on that plot of land. It was originally built as small rooms for garment workers from factories nearby. When I arrived, I was shocked seeing their living condition. 4-5 people lived in a 3*4 metre room with a small toilet with no functioning living-room or bedroom. The electricity and fresh water were not set up properly. I was traumatised for weeks after learning about this whole situation. I had lived in poverty but never lived in this condition in my life.
I have joined Khmer Architecture Tours since I was in third year at university. Since then, I have realised many things that I wished I could have studied at school. I trained for a year and half, following the senior tour guides to places that I have never seen or found by myself. Those places open my eyes to see a wider picture of the capital- problems and big challenges. I have seen an old cinema which becomes a slum, the demolition of historical buildings due to lack of regulation and appreciation of people and many more. I have been to this part of the city where you can find a former timbered Chinese temple and a former catholic chapel. This area excites me the most as I can see how people modified the existing structures to their own residential space and at the same time, the heritage gems. I was traumatised again but this time, I started to think of a way that I can help this.
This whole narrative leads me to decide what can I do in the future to help these vulnerable people and the city. The answer is that I can be an advocate and architect by designing public housing for low-income Cambodians like projects we used to have in the 1960s. But how can I do this because there is no public housing project in Cambodia like the one in Singapore which is running by the Housing and Development Board? So I turned to NGOs. I found one, Building Trust Cambodia that working on sustainable buildings in the country and the world. Due to some issues, I missed my chance working for them.
I believe that if you do not give up on what is right, you’ll find a way to get it back. Sometimes, you probably have to cross a mountain or two in order to reach your goal but it always worth your time. Luckily enough, I met an architect-professor from Perth on the 1960s modernist building excursion that I conducted for her. She was interested in what I am aiming for life,so she recommended me to be part of an organisation that she and her students usually help with the design. I did some research on the organisation, RAW Impact, and I just love what they are doing for the low-income communities in Cambodia. I contacted them and here I am working for them for a better living condition of the people of Cambodia. Currently, I am designing a masterplan of a project called, EPM- Every Piece Matters and I hope through my design people can live comfortably. I will update about the process if I have more time.