Rogers directs students designing
educational facility in Cambodia


Students in a second-year Texas A&M architecture design studio have developed concepts for Bakong Technical College, a facility established to help lift the Cambodian people out of subsistence living through education.

“Two decades of war, revolution and genocide have left much of the Cambodian landscape unsafe due to landmines, its resources in decline, the economy unstable and its people in poverty,” said Ranachith “Ronnie” Yimsut, program coordinator of Project Enlighten, which is founding the BTC.

Project Enlighten is a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization that provides educational and humanitarian assistance in Southeast Asia based on need.

The studio project is being led by Julie Rogers, a senior lecturer in the architecture and visualization departments who holds a doctorate in architecture with an emphasis on Southeast Asian art and architecture.

The students are focusing on designs for Phase I of the Cambodian college, which includes an administration building, classrooms, a dormitory/hotel, cafeteria and a monument memorializing the country’s long history and those who suffered and died under the infamous Khmer Rouge.

Project Enlighten founder Asad Rahman contacted Rogers, asking her students to submit designs for the college.

“Rahman was familiar with work the our students did for the Cambodian Land Mine Museum and Relief Facility outside Siem Reap, Cambodia,” she said.

In that 2007 project, Rogers and George Mann, professor of architecture, directed students as they designed a new facility for the museum, which casts a spotlight on the country’s chronic landmine problem through its vast collection of mine shells and bomb casings as well as archives chronicling the rise and fall of the Khmer Rouge.

The student designs for the modern museum and relief facility included a dormitory residence for disadvantaged children, a feeding station, an educational facility, an administrative office, and a home for the museum’s founder, Aki Ra.

This time, Rogers’ students created designs for a facility that, Yimsut said, will improve Cambodia’s economy through teaching them about sustainable farming and ecotourism.

“Economic opportunities are growing in the cultural and ecotourism fields,” he said. “Since 2000, tourism has grown exponentially, from just 500,000 to over 2 million tourists a year.”

“It was a very interesting opportunity to do something that actually has a possibility of being built this early in our design education,” said Colton Spross, one of the student designers in Rogers’ Spring 2009 studio. “As a young architect it’s always exciting to be involved in things that can help improve people’s lives.“

Emau Vega and his fellow designers Tommy Bett, Allison Forman, Anna Gorski and Marjorie Pirics discovered that trying to incorporate Cambodia’s architectural style in their designs for the college proved to be a challenge.

“We had to learn how and why the Cambodians do architecture the way they do, not just for the aesthetics but for functionality,” he said. “They have really steep roofs and they use wood a lot; Dr. Rogers suggested a building of the kind should be more of a concrete or masonry building so it can last a lot longer.”

Spross and his fellow team members Nick Binz, Ronny Eckels, Megan Rohr and Josh Wilson incorporated “green” features into their designs.

“We tried to maximize natural ventilation on all buildings in the site, taking into consideration the prevailing winds during the summer and winter seasons, using a long rectangular shape and a thin profile,” he said.

Their design included water collection facilities on the roof, especially in the cafeteria area, for reuse in cooking, as well as local materials.

Rahman also asked the students to include a memorial for the victims of the Khmer Rouge in their design.

“Our monument has three rings,” said Spross. “The outer ring has three stones at the west, south and east sides, each representing the three empires Cambodia was part of in antiquity. Inscribed on the wall in the second ring is Cambodia’s colonial history up to the mid 20th century, and the center of the monument represents the dark times of the Khmer Rouge genocide, which cut off Cambodia’s intellectual heritage.”

Vega’s team designed the monument to represent the years 1975-79 of the Khmer Rouge regime. The structure is situated at the center of the campus, which a visitor reaches after passing through the campus entrance, which is designed to represent the present.
“The classrooms are at the very end of the axis, representing the future, where they want to go,” said Vega. “Visitors go from the present, to the past, and go toward the future of Cambodia.”

Vega’s team also employed a water collection system for the cafeteria that collects rainwater, routes it to an underground well and then to a water tower via a solar-powered pump. From the tower, gravity carries the collected water to the kitchen, to be used for washing dishes, and to surrounding herb and vegetable gardens for irrigation.

Vega said is team was initially puzzled by the building specifications for the project.

“The square footage they suggested for us to use in the building was really small,” he said. “We imagined ourselves in that position and thought it was just too small.”

But research, he said, revealed that Cambodians have a different sense of personal space than in Western culture. Because they are accustomed to living in clustered conditions, the students adjusted their designs accordingly.

The Bakong Technical College project was the first group project for many of the participating students, Vega said.

“We’re second year students, so most of our previous studios have involved individual design projects,” he said. “This time, we worked together, made group decisions and learned a lot about working as a team.”


- Posted: May 1, 2009 -

- the end -


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