Bomnong L'or Week 1 - Climate Challenge
Over the past year we have been gearing up for a large project in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. A well-known tourist spot, with long-stretching golden beaches, the city also has a less expatriated side. It is in this part, nestled behind a busy market street where we are reconstructing a community centre and school.
The Bomnong L’or (Goodwill) Centre has been running for over ten years and provides much needed supplementary education to children and adults. The centre has proved to be a huge success and is used by a large number of the local community on a daily basis, as a place to meet, play, learn or work. A big challenge faced by the centre however, is ensuring that children in particular are able to attend rather than being sent out to work or beg by their parents. With many households too poor to let their children learn when they could be contributing financially, the centre has established a soap-making enterprise with many of the local women. The soap is sold locally, mostly to tourists, and generates enough income to increase the earning potential of poorer households so their children can attend school.
The Centre was originally built on a small site accessed by a small track off the main road. With so many daily users, teaching spaces had become cramped, play space was limited and impractical and the design offered only poorly ventilated and dimly lit space throughout.
Over a month ago we arranged for the demolition of the original structure with the centre temporarily moving into an alternative accommodation around the corner. Our aim is now to build new facilities, doubling the amount of teaching space and providing a dedicated I.T. suite and soap production room. Working with the restricted site area, we have sought to imitate the local Cambodian stilt house, raising our building up and releasing the full site area for recreational use, much of which will be well sheltered from the blistering south east Asian sun.
Construction work began last Monday and we have been joined by a dozen men and women from the local community. Before we could begin, however, the land owners and our local hosts blessed the site and project in line with their Buddhist faith.
We arrived amidst a solid few days of heavy tropical rains, however, have been fortunate with better weather since. In just a handful of days we have almost completed work on the large pad foundations for the two raised classroom blocks and have begun work on the concrete reinforcement which will form part of the main structural frame.
A change in trades for us, we have decided on this project to opt for a reinforced concrete frame with a secondary steel structure and brick infill. Cambodia has experienced a rapid decline in rainforest cover in recent decades, so we have been keen to minimise our use of timber. In addition to this, we observed that the majority of new buildings were being constructed with concrete, steel and brick with little consideration for climatic factors and often producing dark and hot spaces. Through our design we hope to demonstrate that these materials can be applied in more intelligent ways to create spaces that are enjoyable and comfortable to inhabit. Working with the same materials as Cambodia’s modern buildings but referencing the traditional style and better climatic language of its vernacular, the next seven weeks will begin to open up discussions in the local community and enable us to share ideas with those we’re building with.