Building Demolitions Spark Conservation Debate

Two dilapidated Net Yang High School buildings in Battambang province were demolished to make way for a new building. Photo provided.

PHNPM PENH – Buildings with architectural heritage value should be conserved, an expert says after the destruction of public buildings sparked a public debate between safety and conservation.

Anger was aired on social media over two recent demolition cases.

Two dilapidated Net Yang High School buildings in Battambang province were demolished to make way for a new building. Meanwhile, in Kampong Cham province, the old Buddhist temple at Wat Por Prek was dismantled for a new one.

Architect Tang Sochet Vitou said heritage buildings of all kinds, both pagodas, and non-pagodas, were of great benefit in terms not only of architecture but also the culture and civilization of the whole society, as well as the historical age.

Heritage buildings that are creative and have good artistic value should be repaired and maintained if possible, even if they were old and dilapidated.

“These ancient buildings show the identity of culture and civilization and are also living evidence of history, background, location and area of various stories,” Sochet Vitou said.

“Tourists can visit these buildings, by which we can show the heritage left by our ancestors and also have value, which is important for the country.”

Demolished due to deteriorating condition

Net Yang High School deputy principal Yeung Sam Onn agreed that the buildings were over 50 years old and the public wants to preserve them as cultural property. But due to the limited space of the school, a new building needs to be built.

“If these buildings are kept, there will be no place for new buildings,” he said. “Before the demolition, the school submitted the documents to the provincial administration, and more importantly, the building owners all agreed.”

The first demolished building was built in 2000, with three floors and 18 rooms, and the second building was built in 1968, with one floor and eight rooms.

According to the deputy principal, the new buildings will be built with four floors and 48 rooms, which can facilitate the study of students and solve the problem of a shortage of classrooms.

The school had considered repairing the buildings, but it was not possible because the buildings were old and fragile. Building a new building was the only good option to prevent the collapse of the old buildings, he said.

The deputy principal added that the owner of the building initially did not want to destroy the legacy of their ancestors. But seeing that the condition of the building was deteriorating, they agreed.

“If the buildings did not affect the new construction site, we would keep the buildings and build a fence around them with a sign,” Sam Onn said. “I know that buildings over 50 years old need to be preserved, but the school grounds are not spacious.”

Kim Sophorn, Deputy Director of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts in Battambang, said that after the inspection the building was found to be in a dilapidated condition. Engineers said it was badly damaged and could not be repaired.

The old Buddhist temple at Wat Por Prek in Kampong Cham province was dismantled due to its declining condition and the risk of collapse, the provincial Department of Cult and Religion said.

The department said the temple was built in 1987 and completed in 1990. It is 32 years old, with dilapidated beams, ceilings, roofs, and foundations collapsing.

Thorough study needed

Sochet Vitou, who is also a professor at the University of Fine Arts, said demolition requires proper study. Experts and conservation institutions in the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Religion must check how badly damaged the building is.

“If the risk of collapsing is high, the building has to be demolished. For those buildings with high value, if they must be demolished, it is a sad thing,” he said.

Vitou urged the participation of all relevant institutions to maintain and study the heritage buildings rather than rushing to destroy ancient buildings and build new ones in their place.

The government has prohibited modifications, alterations, or aesthetic damage to the construction of urban heritage sites and prevented the demolition and destruction of cultural, historical, ancient, and heritage buildings to preserve them, according to the instruction on preventing the destruction of heritage buildings dated October 2021.

The construction of heritage buildings that need to be repaired, remodeled, or demolished must first be reviewed and decided by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and the relevant authorities, the instruction read.

Teng Yalirozy contributed to the story.

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