Structural Problems Sink Plans for Arts Boat

A year ago, a team of leading arts advocates in Phnom Penh unveiled grand plans to turn a multi-story boat into a visual and performing arts center off Sisowath Quay. They invited the public to decide on the name, settling on “The Boat.”

However, inspections by various experts have since shown that the structure could not sustain restoration, so those coordinating the project announced on Saturday that they have dropped their plans.

“The Boat” as it stood last year. (Alexis de Suremain)
“The Boat” as it stood last year. (Alexis de Suremain)

“The boat was an incredible project, which made us dream for a year,” Alexis de Suremain, chief executive of the Maads hotel-group, said on Sunday.

“But the more structural assessments specialists did, the more issues came up,” he said. “The conclusion was that the cost of fixing all these elements would have reached several thousands of dollars.”

The boat stands at five stories high and has a pool on its sixth level. Plans announced in October last year consisted of creating working space as well as exhibition and performing halls for arts organizations, and make room for a few restaurants and design outlets.

For the contemporary dance company Amrita Performing Arts, this meant getting a small performance hall ideal for experimental works, said Kang Rithisal, its executive director. Amrita would have become “a company in residence with a space for rehearsal and also to showcase its works,” he said on Sunday.

“We talked both to the municipality and the port authority and they were in support of the project,” said Dana Langlois of JavaArts on Sunday.

“We were very fortunate about that. What wouldn’t work was the boat itself.”

Assessments over the last few months revealed that its structure could barely support its current weight; the hull was made of a single layer, which was insufficient in ensuring safety; and there was no emergency exit or secondary staircase.

Possible solutions included building a permanent structure in the water for the boat, or removing two floors and setting it up onshore, which would have required a fairly large piece of land, Ms. Langlois said.

Mr. de Suremain said those involved would start looking elsewhere in their efforts to create a new art space in the city.

“Personally, as a hotelier, I really believe that our duty is to make this city more attractive with more things to visit and see for people who live in the city, but also to attract visitors from the outside,” he said. “So definitely we will continue to search for opportunities.”

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