The Municipality of Phnom Penh has started installing fountains and colored lights around the base of Independence Monument at the intersection of Norodom and Sihanouk boulevards in the center of the capital, according to Deputy Governor Pa Socheatvong.
“We just want to refurbish it with a fountain of beautiful colors,” he said. Construction, which started early this month, should go on through October, he said Thursday.
Drawings of the completed project posted at the monument show fanlike streams of water lit in bright red, green and blue shooting out of the rectangular structures at the base of the monument that were formerly used as flowerbeds.
Over the last several months, the municipality has focused on beautification projects, such as the rebuilding of the Naga Bridge on Norodom boulevard near Wat Phnom. Hun Sen park next to Independence Monument is also newly manicured.
Pa Socheatvong declined to say how much the lighting and fountains will cost, referring questions to the municipal cabinet. Cabinet Chief Nuon Sameth refused to comment Thursday.
Vann Molyvann, the renowned architect who designed Independence Monument, said Wednesday that he thinks the monument is fine as is, but that fountains might be appropriate given the monument’s context.
Independence Monument, like Angkor Wat, is meant to symbolize the sacred Mount Meru of Hindu and Buddhist cosmology that is surrounded by oceans on all sides, he said. Also, before the French redesigned Phnom Penh’s layout in the early 1900s, there was a network of canals where Independence Monument stands.
“When I started construction, I foresaw oceans also around the monument,” he said, but added: “If [the fountains] are pure decoration, then there is no reason.”
Vann Molyvann said he did not think colored lights would necessarily improve the monument’s appearance.
“If they want to build a new monument elsewhere, there is no problem. There are plenty of open spaces,” he said. “They can light it like in Singapore and elsewhere. There are plenty of spaces for a demonstration of modern lighting systems.”
“Please let the monument be its own symbol,” Vann Molyvann said.
Australian art historian Darryl Collins, formerly based at the National Museum in Phnom Penh, said Thursday that the lighting of any public sculpture or building is a highly technical science.
“It is possible to make a structure look worse” if not lit appropriately, he said.
The upper tiers of the monument were lit temporarily a few years back in the colors of the Cambodian flag: red, white and blue, Collins said.
Van Molyvann said the lighting in red, white and blue—also the colors of the French flag—did not interest him for a monument that commemorates Cambodia’s independence.