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Institute of Foreign Languages

Phnom Penh, Cambodia
1 of 22
The Lab building of Institute of Language, Vann Molyvann, 1972

The Institute of Foreign Languages Faculty was designed by Vann Molyvann.

Classroom Design

This complex of classrooms represent the culmination of the ideas explored during Vann Molyvann's career. Material, structure and light all collaborate perfectly toward the execution of a striking form that performs its function. The four classroom pods are suspended on canted piloti which somehow make the structure simultaneously static and dynamic. They balance the sloping floor which supports the stepped seating, while giving the building a coiled, animalistic energy.

The classrooms are small, able to accommodate approximately 35 students. The vertically louvered sidewalls glow with natural light while blocking the view to any outside distractions. The glazing itself is constructed of operable louvers, allowing for the room to be naturally ventilated. Originally there were light cannons on the roof, similar to those in the main building, which once focused the light onto each lab desk. However when the function of the rooms changed a false ceiling was installed allowing for florescent lights and ceiling fans.

The classrooms are connected by a hallway which has a masonry screen wall on one side that is unglazed and open to the air. Opposite the pods, the hall is lined with more conventional classroom spaces. Still, they are lit by a louvered wall and skylights which employ sculptural concrete sunscreens to reflect the sunlight into the interior.

The complex of buildings at the Foreign Languages Faculty are composed around a central courtyard.

Library Building

This is the embodiment of the idea that the structure should become integral to the look of the building, as here the columns are ribs that ring the exterior, with the glazing layer set inside from them. The ground floor is mostly made up of offices which are set into the core of the circular building. A curving stair runs along the inside face up to the second level which houses the library. The ceiling is as sculpted as the exterior structure, allowing an understanding of the radial roof form which is imperceptible from the outside. Vann Molyvann intended that the library entrance was located directly from the second level which catwalks the ring of the campus. But the entrance which is pictured above is now kept locked. It's a good thing, as the entry sequence, from the darker and more confined lobby and stair up to the light-filled and airy reading room is effective.

Vann Molyvann himself has said that he based the design of the Library on a traditional Khmer straw hat. This sounds suspiciously like post-rationalization to me and his architecture doesn't need to be rationalized; it stands as a work of art on its own.

Main Building

The main building is a striking composition of near Brutalist form. Each floor overhangs the one below, giving the building incredible weight, and creating strong shadow lines. The practical purpose is to provide shade for the windows below. Its surface is heavily carved by the big reveals at the louvered openings between brick panels and the vertical louvers that march across the facade in a composition that alternates from one floor to the other. The honey-combed reinforced concrete roof allows for ventilation of the interior spaces, primarily the cavernous interior hall at the heart of the building. Within the hall a grand scissor stair provides circulation to the three levels above, while a big study room carved out of the second floor provides indirect light to the interior.

In addition to this main building, the institute is made up of a bar of small lecture halls and a library which looks a bit like the orphaned volume knob of a stereo.

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ziggurat, March 7th, 2013
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