The challenge was to build a large facility on a relatively small plot of land but at a choice location—a walking distance from Independence Monument and facing the tree-lined Norodom Boulevard.
As an embassy, the building would have to meet high-security requirements and yet be inviting for both staff and visitors.
The new Singaporean Embassy also had to reflect both Cambodia and the country it would represent.
This was accomplished by using sandstone from Siem Reap province on the exterior walls of the facility; creating Singapore-style urban gardens in the courtyard but with Cambodian trees and plants; and exhibiting on the walls artwork from both countries.
Prior to moving into the new facility, where the embassy held its first public event last month, Singapore had rented a building nearby after renewing diplomatic relations with Cambodia following the 1991 Paris Agreements, Ambassador Lawrence Anderson said.
But when Cambodia became a member of Asean in 1999, Singapore decided to invest in its own embassy building, he said.
“For us [Singaporeans], we always had a dream of setting up a proper embassy in each Asean country,” he said.
Building an embassy in Phnom Penh was also meant to show Singapore’s “belief and confidence that Cambodia is on the right track—not just for peace and stability, but also prosperity and progress,” Anderson said.
The surface of the compound’s outside wall was patterned to suggest wooden boards rather than concrete.
The facade of the three-story building is covered with small, horizontal, sandstone boards of varying textures, left in natural tones of blue, grey, peach and amber—the warmth of the sculpted surface distracting from the absence of windows.
Inside the embassy, water gargles in a basin virtually hidden by plants and flowers, and trees shade the walkway of uneven stones set in the grass.
Bamboo trees abound, which Anderson planted as a souvenir of a boat trip he took to Kratie town.
The embassy includes a conference room that comfortably sits 28, small meeting rooms and a 200-square-meter meeting hall where the embassy plans to hold artists’ workshops as well as film screenings “to create a little bit of a buzz in the place,” Anderson said.
An outdoor hallway in the compound is adorned with wooden shutters from the French Colonial house that once stood on the embassy lot. Inside, artworks commissioned from Cambodia’s Chhim Sothy, Leng Seckon, Sous Sodavy and Svay Ken share space with the works of Singapore’s Ong Kim Seng and Thomas Yeo.
And to illustrate the importance placed on arts and culture at the embassy, the new facility’s “soft opening” last month consisted of a talk by Joyce Fan, curator of the Singapore Art Museum.
In a flower pot hanging from a tree branch in the embassy courtyard blooms a Dendrobium Norodom Sihamoni orchid.
According to a Singaporean custom for heads of state, an orchid was named after King Norodom Sihamoni when he paid an official visit to the country last year, said Anderson. An orchid already bore the name of his father, retired King Norodom Sihanouk, he added.