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Bomnong L'or Week 5 - French Curves and Rulers

In the course of just one week, site has changed dramatically with fabric being stripped from cast concrete beams and columns, the maze of scaffolds and timber falsework dismantled and the introduction of large steel members and thousands of clay bricks.

The week began, however, much like those before it as we geared up for our last major structural concrete pour. The upper floor columns which support steel beams and roof trusses still needed to be cast. With no other buildings having previously been built using this exact method of fabric casting we had little to refer to when designing construction details and our first set of columns at ground level had uncovered some flaws in our technique, with fabric slipping marginally out of position and causing small slumps in the base of each column. Whilst not a structural concern, this affected the aesthetic quality of some columns and we were keen to avoid a repeat higher up. Following some brainstorming on site, we developed an amended detail to clamp the fabric more securely at the base of each column. Despite this, the first column to be poured was still a nerve-wracking affair, yet, fortunately the system worked leaving evenly balanced, elegant concrete columns reaching up to the eaves.

We have been particularly blessed over the past week with totally dry weather as we completed the concrete work, however, with the rains threatening to pick up again, attentions turned towards getting the roof installed and giving us a dry interior space to work on over the final few weeks. Our local welder, Nead, has been working with us to hoist up and fit large steel sections which sit on top of the main columns and support the roof trusses on top. Most of the team are comfortable at height however, Nead, defies all our nerves as he walks along high beams with little notice of the air beneath him!

There has also been change in pace on site as we approach the final three weeks and a few late nights on site have already crept in. This has been aided by a change in jobs as we begin more finely detailed work, replacing the physicality of concrete work with the measured straight edges of steel and the satisfaction of bricklaying.

As the building work started to gain momentum above, we also began work on the landscaping of the now open playground area. A team of masons have joined us to help boost progress and we’ve been working alongside them to carve out a sloping curved entrance from the raised road down into the site, as well as building up the raised toilet and shower plinth with septic tank below, and beginnings of the stair access up to the classrooms above. A key feature of the design for the new centre was to raise the teaching spaces, freeing up the full site area for recreational use. In doing this, we are creating a range of different spaces including a large open space for sports and games, landscaped seating, planted areas and raised plinths. In keeping with the fluid free forms of the fabric-cast concrete, the landscaping below twists and turns, curving its way around columns as it descends from the road down to the heart of the site. Our aim is to build a hard-wearing and adaptable range of spaces which also acts as a fun and playful landscape for the children and community to enjoy.

To end the week we were invited to dinner with our good friends Sokheang and Sothea. Sokheang is the lead teacher at the Bomnong L’or Centre and has helped us throughout the build, while Sothea has worked tirelessly each day serving as our translator on top of getting stuck into all the hard physical work. Sadly, Sothea has been called back to a job in Phnom Penh meaning this week was his last on site with us. Sokheang and his family cooked up a beautiful Khmer meal which we all enjoyed as we thanked Sothea for all his hard work and support. We wish him well on his next adventure!

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