The year is 1953 – the month April. The French Protectorate of Cambodia, still under fading colonial authority of French Indochina, is still six months from the triumphant 9 November return of King Norodom Sihanouk and the de-facto establishment of the First Kingdom of Cambodia.
Yet to come is the ambitious and forward-thinking first administration of Sihanouk that would oversee Cambodia’s Sangkum Period (Sangkum Reastr Niyum: “popular socialist community”). Phnom Penh, still a small city home to just 333,000 people, was still a sleepy colonial outpost, yet to be transformed into a modern metropolis under the vision of future-state-architect Vann Molyvann.
Appointed in 1956 to build a Kingdom fit for the post-colonial aspirations of the day, Molyvann, the visionary behind the regenerative Master Plan of Phnom Penh City, would radically change the landscape of the capital. Phnom Penh would transform from the low-lying Chinese-style shophouses and French colonial structures seen in these images, to one of the best examples of creative urban planning in the region. A city dominated by cutting-edge modernist structures inspired by traditional Khmer design and French architect Le Corbusier – his mentor when studying in Paris.