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"The Lung of Phnom Penh"

Part 1 Project 2014
Maya Laitinen
Architectural Association London UK
The Lung of Phnom Penh is a speculative urban and architectural intervention utilising the idea of the vertical dwelling to respond to land-ownership issues in the Cambodian capital. The project is set on the site once occupied by the Boeung Kak Lake, which until recently played a significant role as the city’s natural drainage system and as a water source for the 4,000 families living around it. However, land-speculation pressure for a luxury residential skyscraper scheme has prompted developers to fill Boeung Kak with tonnes of sand from nearby rivers. Thousands have been displaced as a result and are now fighting for a sliver of the conceded 15 hectares – a mere 12 per cent – of the land they once called home.

This project radically reconsiders what is to be allocated to the community, suggesting an even lesser figure of habitable ground area: three per cent. Here, air space is utilised to envision floating vertical possibilities of living, working and adapting to an environment that includes the proposed towers. The scheme creates a new residential and public axis in the city by inserting programmes based on urban farming and water infrastructure in order to link Phnom Penh’s important green areas with a cooling park and vegetable markets.

Above these spaces rise inflatable elements, inspired by Cambodian houses on stilts, which offer mobility and flexibility while providing shade for plants and cooling the environment for residents below. In dry winters, dwellings can move high above ground level, allowing space for the vegetable market, public park and water storage. During monsoon season the structures seal together to prevent flooding. The additional planting of an urban bamboo forest fertilises the ground and links two important green zones in the city while generating surplus building material. By supporting the displaced community with a living space and a livelihood, the project also re-establishes an open dialogue with the city through its creation of changing seasonal public spaces for all. Although it hangs in the air, the Lung of Phnom Penh proposes a resilient space that strengthens the area’s rural past and helps residents discover a new nature – one whose lake is the sky.

Maya Laitinen


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