Store Built in Place of Colonial Building Decried

An official at Unesco on Wednesday criticized the owner of an historic French colonial-era building in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district that was demolished last year and now has a bright red-and-blue office supply store built in its place.

Located on the corner of Street 108 and Norodom Boulevard, the site was home to a 19th-century building with a yellow facade and a distinctive tower.

A year ago, workers began destroying it and the owner, Kaing Gheck Nai, said then that she would erect a replica of the building, as the old one was in such a state of disrepair.

Anne Lemaistre, country representative for Unesco, criticized the building’s owner for not adhering to her promise.

“I thought she had committed herself to do a replica of the form­er building when we were alarmed by her de­stroying it, and then she made something even worse,” Ms. Lemaistre said. “It’s not beautifying the city.”

Concerned for what this means for the city’s cultural heritage, Ms. Lemaistre said the site’s historical value has been totally lost. “After one year, not only was a replica not built—as it was promised—an ugly building without meaning or historical value has been brought up.”

Today, an angular structure boasting bright blue and red tiles stands in the 19th-century building’s place. Heng Sokdanin, a store supervisor, said Wednesday that the shop, called Office Express, would open in early June and that the owner, Moeung Makara, had rented the land to sell binders, pens, paper shredders and Khmer fairytale books.

Kaing Gheck Nai, the owner of the land, said she could not afford to build a replica yet as she is still trying to buy the neighboring building as the two structures share a wall.

“I still want to rebuild the house the same as the French design but the intention is impossible now as I can’t afford to buy the neighboring house since the owners keep demanding too high a price,” Ms. Gheck Nai said, adding that she has kept some of the materials from the original house to use for her future replica.

Office Express will hold the lease on the site for five years and the rent is $1,000 a month, she said.

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