Finnish architecture project receives international recognition
Sunrays shine through golden bamboo structures and the building walls are a bright turquoise. Finnish architecture group Komitu’s new youth centre was completed in Phnom Penh in Cambodia in early 2014. Now it has been awarded with an honourable mention at the Rethinking Future Awards architecture competition.
Noora Aaltonen, Sisko Hovila, Tuuli Kassi, Maiju Suomi, Elina Tenho and Inari Virkkala are young architects and students from Aalto University, and form the Komitu group. During their studies, all members of the group participated a public building planning course, which included a field work component in Cambodia.
”The decision to design the youth centre started when we became familiarized with Cambodian Volunteers for the Society (CVS) and Khmer Kamputchea Krom Human Rights Association (KKKHRDA), our partners,” explains Tenho.
“They want to make youth more active in their daily lives and in society. Majority of the Cambodian population is under 30 years old due to the country’s violent recent history. Possibilities for education and employment are scarce and many young people are drawn to violence and drugs.”
The awarded youth centre is an interpretation of a Cambodian house, suited for the tropical climate, paired with the architects’ cultural backgrounds. The construction of the centre took two years to complete due to uncertainty with funding and a change of a contractor. The building was finished in February 2014. Funding for the project was completely acquired from Finland.
Ecological design and local youth as part of the project
The project’s themes are environmentally friendly and innovative solutions. The architects have used natural low carbon materials, such as bamboo, compressed earth blocks and even bottles filled with plastic waste. Considering the climate, rain water harvesting was also installed in the building. The garden has also a bigger meaning: providing protection from the sun and serving as a teaching space for efficient farming classes.
The architects wanted to design the building with natural ventilation, working through air pressure and gravity. The roof and walls are also painted light-coloured in order to reflect heat.
”Cambodians reacted differently to the materials previously unknown to them. The building’s walls were previously planned to be completely made out of compacted earth blocks, but lab tests showed weaknesses in their strength. We decided to add a cement framework, which seemed to make the locals satisfied, as it is a known construction technique for them.”
Komitu kept their partner organizations’ young people involved since the planning phase of the building. The centre’s spaces and their functions were planned in co-operation with the local youth.
“The building’s first plans were presented to young people, who then gave us valuable feedback about the culture and climate of the region. They paid surprisingly little attention to the appearance of the building, but rather focused on its safety.”
At the moment the building is being used for giving English classes to children and youngsters, with plans being drawn for IT classes for next autumn. The organisations have also planned a voluntary hospital run by medicine students, as well as accommodation for young girls moving in from rural areas into the city to study.
New construction techniques inspire locals
The aim of the project was to inspire locals through the new construction techniques used in the centre. The Komitu group collaborated with local experts and universities, by giving a presentation on current bamboo-building techniques and presenting their plans at the architecture school.
”We wanted to remind Cambodians how amazing building material bamboo is. It has been a traditional construction material but it has been forgotten with the arrival of new materials.”
The local residents and students were inspired by the Finns’ building. One engineering student made his thesis work about bamboo construction, and a group following the project has already built a house using bamboo and compacted earth blocks. The locals have also been constructing fences using the plastic bottle building technique from the youth centre.
The building has received critical acclaim in several architecture magazines and blogs around the world.
Komitu is part of the South of North architecture group and participates in collective exhibitions and seminar series. An exhibition will be held during the Helsinki Design Week in September. Additionally, Komitu organizes the Mouthful of Meetings discussion event at the prestigious Venice Biennale in September.
Text: Sara Vihavainen