To celebrate the release of Khmer Concrete, we talk to its author Ekkehart Keintzel.
What led you to becoming interested in the history of Cambodian architecture?
EK: My first trip to Cambodia was back in 2007. At the time I already knew something about the more recent history of the country and its years of emerging cultural life and self-confidence back in the 60s and 70s. I was lucky to join a tour in Phnom Penh with a young architect, and got to see some of the important buildings from that era. I was fascinated by the sublime beauty and power of these buildings. By the end of that trip I was already hooked and I tried to get more information. I realised that only one book on the topic existed, “Building Cambodia: New Khmer Architecture” published by Helen Grant Ross in 2006, which had only a small print run and not easy to find. By staying in touch with some Cambodian architects and studying the aforementioned book, I started to explore the heritage from that time which remained. In the following years, between 2007 and 2017 I was able to travel to Cambodia several times to carry out research and documentation
Why did you feel this project was important?
EK: After years of civil war, dictatorship and lack of economic development, the salvation of the architectural heritages is a topic that nobody really cares about. During the time I was shooting, two of the documented buildings were demolished. What I do is mainly a visual investigation of everyday reception and use/reuse of this kind of buildings. But as I believe in the power and importance of documentary photography, it is also an important work to preserve the current state of these buildings in a documentary way but showing my very own reception.
What have been some of the biggest surprises along your journey?
EK: A big surprise for me was how little is known about the heritage of Cambodian architecture from that specific time. There is, of course, the aforementioned publication and there are some young architects doing research work. But as there is little to no public interest, we can be almost certain that many of the buildings are going to disappear in the next few years.