Like most architects, Vann Molyvann, wanted to design his own house. But he only managed to do so a decade after returning from his studies in France. The distinguishing feature of this unique design is the shell structure of the roof, which is an exercise in hyperbolic parabolic curves that required calculation from his brother-in-law, who was an engineer. The volume is almost cubic and divided into three levels, the open-plan living area on the second floor within the roof, the bedroom on the first floor and an office on the ground floor.
The main structure is reinforced concrete, with brick facing. The double-roof concrete shell is a regulated structure, water-proofed and covered with flat terracotta tiles on the outside and wood on the inside. The walls are finished with red facing brick. The interior is dominated by the sweep of the roof, which seems to float above the living room thanks to a horizontal band of glass around the perimeter. Vann Molyvann’s wife Trudy says the double roof is wide enough to walk between the two layers. As in many of Vann Molyvann’s buildings, Le Corbusier’s Modulor was used as a design tool. A 1.13 meter grid was used for the floor plans, the height of the balustrade is 83 centimeters (instead of the standard 100), and the height of the windows in the living room 226 centimeters. The roof inspired the Battambang Public Works Office designed in the late eighties by Sieng Sang Em, who was Vann Molyvann’s draughtsman in the sixties.
When Vann Molyvann built the house on what used to be a bigger plot, this part of Phnom Penh was countryside. With the construction of the Chinese Embassy, the municipal government built Mao Tse Toung Boulevard as a gesture of goodwill to China. By the seventies, the population exploded and most of the street was built up. Due to a lack of maintenance of the drainage system, the boulevard is now often flooded and recent work has been done to protect the entrance and ground floor.
After Van Molyvann left Cambodia in 1971, the house was rented to building contractor Comin Khmer, which then sublet it to a Danish man. During the Pol Pot era it was abandoned. The Department of Urban Planning and Construction later used the building. By the time the couple returned to Cambodia in 1993, the furniture had gone but Trudy’s water skis were still there.
Source: Building Cambodia: New Khmer Architecture 1953-1970