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Finding a Home for Modern in Cambodia: Preserving Phnom Penh's Olympic Stadium and the New Khmer Architecture

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Modernist architecture spread around the world in the post-war period, and, in developing and recently independent nations, it was often used to represent a break with the past and the coming of modernity. But what does Modernist architecture represent today, and how do we look back on ‘modernity’? In Cambodia, the ‘Independence Architecture’ of the 1950s and 60s was a venue for celebrating the state, with no greater example than Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium. The ensuing 30 years of conflict have reshaped the urban landscape, and today, surviving buildings of this era have been reused and altered, and taken on new life. At the same time, a new vision of modernity has taken hold, and the city’s form is changing—to the detriment of its historic fabric. This paper explores how preservationists have approached preserving Cambodia’s Modernist architecture, specifically Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium, and how the city’s changing population values its continued existence. I argue that both preservationists and Phnom Penh’s inhabitants have used the Stadium to contest shifting conceptions of modernity and increasing dispossession in the city. In a city of changing demography, however, the Stadium’s meaning is quickly disappearing.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Group series.

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