The celebrated Indian architect Charles Correa once wrote that one of the problems with Western architecture and design was that it was obsessed with looking for the ultimate image of itself. Considerations during design for the publishable ‘killer shot’ negated other architectural considerations of space, time and movement and as a consequence the quality of contemporary architecture in the West had suffered with projects looking to create the ultimate ‘selfie’.
Correa went onto argue that many of his own built schemes were ‘difficult’ to capture because they dealt and addressed other considerations not easilly described through still photography. His architecture was not designed with some kind of facadist intent to insure publication but explored other richer narratives. When visiting buildings I always think of Correa’s words as I lift my camera. If the architecture is hard or impossible to photograph then there’s always a bit of me which thinks ‘this must be a good building’.
Vann Molyvann’s 1960’s projects in Cambodia definitely fit into this category. Above is a detail of a floor at the Institute of Technology where the column filled space beneath the building is outdoor and refers back to the traditional vernacular of timber stilted Khmer houses. Here the buildings are concrete, the spans big and tall, but the space serves a similar function where students and faculty gather and linger, as do Khmer households, in the breeze and shade that flows beneath their homes. The space really works, with temporary desks and chairs for impromptu classes and enrolment, but is impossible to photograph satisfactorily. Hence an image of it’s detail with more to follow from other buildings visited.