Using an innovative method of casting concrete in lightweight fabric moulds, Orkidstudio and innovative engineers, StructureMode, have teamed up with a team of Khmer women in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, to rebuild a community centre in the city’s urban heart.
The coastal port city of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, is a well-known tourist spot, with long-stretching golden beaches and a busy central strip. Behind the paradise of sun, sea and foreign tourism lies a chaotic, throbbing downtown area eventually petering out along a line of Buddhist-pagoda-topped hills. It is in these urban midlands, nestled behind a busy market street, where the reconstructed Bomnong L’or (Goodwill) Centre sits.
The Centre has been running for over ten years and provides much needed supplementary education to local children and adults. Now a cornerstone of the community the centre is used on a daily basis, as a place to meet, play, learn or work. Built on a cramped site accessed by a small dirt track, the original single storey structure sat awkward and uninviting; its central position reducing play space and offering only poorly ventilated and dimly lit rooms throughout. With so many daily users, the Centre struggled to function effectively and required a re-think in design and layout.
The new building lifts all learning and teaching spaces immediately up to first floor level, clearing the full site area which is then articulated by a twisting and turning landscape, creating a range of spaces for different ages to interact and play. This raised typology mimics the traditional Khmer stilt house, typically constructed from timber, but in this case from fabric-cast concrete. Cut and stitched from a durable geo-textile, this innovative method combined local gender-assigned trades in tailoring (female) and concrete (male).
Casting reinforced concrete in fabric formwork was researched and tested by StructureMode; modelling the fabric to predict how it would stretch when concrete was poured inside and producing patterns for the tailors to follow.
In recent decades, driven by civil war, Cambodia has seen a rapid and shocking decline in rainforest cover and its forestry industry remains largely uncontrolled even today. The use of fabric-cast concrete enabled a significant reduction in timber use on site, with only a lightweight sub-frame required to hold the fabric in position.
The new Centre provides four large teaching spaces, a computer room, administrative and service spaces, and a colourful soap-production room built within the shell of an existing building on the site. In order to encourage local families to send their children to the Centre rather than forcing them to work from a young age, this soap-production facility offers poor women a chance to learn a new skill and generate an income.
Oriented on the site to harness the seasonal winds that rush inland off the Gulf of Thailand, the Centre’s split, offset roof draws air through the teaching spaces below whilst boasting large eaves designed to prevent any sunlight reaching the walls. At the gable ends, where space is limited by the site boundary, narrow, highly ventilated store rooms are used as a buffer from solar gains. By adopting an entirely passive climatic strategy, the building aims to stand as an example of good and affordable design, combining both traditional and modern techniques and seeking to establish a new Cambodian building typology.
Photography by Lindsay Perth
Thanks to project sponsors: