Bomnong L’Or Centre
Based in Glasgow, Scotland but practicing worldwide, Orkidstudio is a humanitarian design organisation that uses the tools of architecture and social enterprise for the benefit of disadvantaged communities.
Af Nina Tory-Henderson
The practice’s projects are born from a collaboration with the local community, placing emphasis on the process of design and construction rather than just its output. Through community consultation and involvement, Orkidstudio aims to create social change and empowerment through sharing skills and knowledge.
For the last ten years, the Bomnong L’Or (goodwill) Centre has been providing education for both children and adults in the urban midlands of Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Over these ten years, the center has become an important gathering space in the community for education, work, and play. Located on a cramped site, the original building had inadequate outdoor space and poor indoor environments that were dimly lit and badly ventilated.
Completed in September last year, the new Bomnong L’Or Centre lifts the functions of the center onto the first floor, leaving the ground plane of the site open as a space for gathering and play. The new building houses four generous teaching spaces, a computer room, administrative and service rooms.
The stilted structure reinterprets local Khmer houses, typically raised off the ground by timber columns, by instead using concrete — currently a more sustainable material with Cambodia’s rapid decline in rainforest cover and largely uncontrolled forestry industry. In collaboration with UK-based engineers StructureMode, Orkidstudio developed an innovative, fabric-based concrete-casting method that could utilize local trades. Khmer women tailored the formwork out of durable geotextile material, with the remainder of the work completed by both skilled and unskilled local workers.
The entire project was completed in a tight timeframe of eight weeks, particularly impressive given it was built using an entirely original concrete casting method and a predominantly inexperienced local workforce.
The Bomnong L’Or Centre reconstruction has been a typically ambitious and successful project for Orkidstudio. To redevelop the building with such an innovative approach to materials and process, and in such a short time frame, in the face of very challenging conditions, is again testament to the strength and commitment of the team. As with other projects, the building will provide a practical and pragmatic solution to assist educational and economic development within the local community.
— Fife Hyland, Director at Drum Property Group, key sponsor of the Bomnong L’Or Project
Sitting on the striking soft, rounded concrete columns formed by the folds of the fabric are very simple steel structures clad with bricks and bamboo. They are oriented to harness seasonal winds that are drawn in through the split roofs, with generous eaves preventing direct sunlight from heating the masonry walls.
Interpreting a local building typology with contemporary sustainable materials and utilization of local trades, the new Bomnong L’Or Centre stands as an example of good, environmentally responsive, affordable design that seeks to establish a new contemporary Cambodian building typology.