An exclusive interview with industry guru Thierry Loustau-Khao, founder & CEO of the French-Cambodian LBL International established since 1992.
LBL International is a Cambodian company that has built over 250 construction projects in Cambodian and Thailand.
1-Firstly, what are your insights about Cambodia’s Construction industry development now?
These last five years have been very dynamic in terms of development and have made construction one of the main pillars of Cambodia’s economy today. The coming of more international actors has greatly professionalized the construction industry and I believe it is a trend that will keep on growing.
2-While Vattanac Capital Tower won Southeast Asia’s outstanding Gold-ranked LEED design award a few years ago, an LEED platinum rank has been recently granted to the Bureau Veritas office building which is also located in Cambodia. Does this mark a new era for the Kingdom’s architecture toward sustainable or green design? What are your thoughts on this trend?
Generally, the question of energy is a major issue for Cambodia’s development and adopting a sustainable design could only bring benefits. However, despite the LEED ranks that were awarded, sustainable and green architecture is little known in Cambodia. The Kingdom is currently developing fast and the main concerns of a lot of projects are cost-effectiveness, profits and advertising, with little sensitivity or time given to sustainable design.
Even though the construction of LEED-awarded buildings is a step forward, sustainability should be designed as a whole within the city; in the long term, issues such as transport, green space, traffic etc. should be effectively addressed as well.
3-In terms of architecture and design, what are positive and negative developments have you observed in Cambodia as the construction industry has developed?
Although a great number of developments contribute to the city’s improvement, many are designed as individual identities and do not sufficiently build in relation to the existing urban context. As a result, proportions between infrastructures and architecture are not systematically respected which may, for instance, cause problems of traffic, natural light, and urban coherence.
For positive growth, it is important that projects are able to create a bridge between the existing and the new, and are no longer perceived as one single development, but as part of a more general development.
4-Given Cambodia’s geography and climate, how can it benefit contractors, architects and designers to develop projects which take these factors into account?
Cambodia’s climate alters between very dry and heavy rain seasons with temperatures that can reach up to 40 degrees. Many issues have to be dealt with such as high temperatures, heavy and horizontal rains, protection against dust and insects, and noise which may create conflicts in a project’s coherence. However some projects have taken the challenge to turn these disadvantages into benefits by combining natural ventilation, impermeability and natural light, and here lies the opportunity to create a more interesting and smarter design.
5-Sometimes there are technical and ethical conflicts over designing a project which reflects a Cambodian identity versus more modern architectural design. Do you see this as a challenge and how can a definitively Cambodian modern design style evolve?
In the context of globalization and exchange of knowledge and technologies, architecture becomes itself more globalized and the distinction between national styles dissipates. Cambodia can be part of a more modern and international movement because the conflict isn’t necessarily between the Cambodian identity and modern architectural design but rather in our response to find a way to marry these two identities, hence the importance of a general urban plan that defines areas to be preserved and protects Cambodia’s heritage.
6-The Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction in Cambodia has been working hard to draft its own building code which will hopefully be completed soon. Do you happen to know if this law will include procedures for architecture and design? If so, what are the main areas which are covered? Should there be a separate code of architecture and design?
The drafting of a building code is a good initiative; so far as I know, the building code concerns the construction domain. Regarding the fact that the construction code is already very complex and dense, it will be better to separate architecture and design codes for more clarity.
7-Due to the current absence of a Cambodian building code, various international building codes have been applied on different projects in Cambodia. Has this created problems? What are the most pressing issues facing Cambodia in implementing, monitoring and enforcing a standardized system?
Currently the main issue is that not all buildings in Cambodia apply an international building code. As we progress towards a more standardized system, having a code applied to all construction would already be an important step. In the long term, since there are already many international codes, I do not think it is necessary to reinvent one but rather to choose an existing one and adapt it to local needs and means.
8-With the construction industry thriving in Cambodia right now, how tough is the competition between international and local firms?
The competition is particularly strong between local firms and regional firms from Thailand, Korea, Vietnam, and Malaysia, which is a normal tendency when talking about a developing economy. This exterior competition stimulated local expertise and forced local firms to be more skilled in order to be as reliable as international firms. Globally it is positive competition because it benefited local firms by lifting them up and raising the quality of construction. As a result, local firms such as LBL are able to compete and will remain major construction actors in Cambodia.
9-Are Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) for architecture and design sector a serious matter for Cambodia now or in the future when the IPR law is implemented? What are the most pressing issues to consider?
In an environment of free market trade and a fast growing economy, concerns about IPR are weak and rarely brought up. If Cambodia wants to become a lasting and reliable actor in the global economy, the IPR matter should definitely be seriously considered. Its implementation would value the architect’s status, the quality of his work and protect his profession in the long term. Construction should not be treated as an object that can be indefinitely reproduced; its design should be unique and always respond to very specific and localized needs.
10-In general, do you think the qualifications of graduate students from Cambodian construction-related university courses meet the requirements of local and international construction-related firms? How can young Cambodians become more qualified to take on higher positions in the sector?
From our professional experience in Thailand, we are able to affirm that in comparison, graduate students from Cambodia construction-related universities are very well trained and have nothing to envy of their neighbors. Cambodian graduates have an excellent base and qualifications to assume higher possibilities. The problems we encounter today are more in the difficulty of finding enough graduates from this sector.
11-With ASEAN integration close, do you think the Kingdom’s construction, architecture, and design sector is ready for this regional integration? What are impacts on Cambodia’s construction market do you foresee after December 2015?
The economy of Cambodia is currently very open to foreign investments, and as stated before, the competition between regional firms has professionalized the construction industry and prepared it to be a more competitive market. Its integration should only accelerate and facilitate current trends such as investment opportunities and developing economic activities.
12-What are your recommendations to enhance the nation’s construction, architecture and design industry?
There is a great necessity in creating new regulation but more specifically, in creating a setting that will allow these regulations to be properly implemented and applied. Because it is a long and complex process, the main requirement would be to implement laws according to the state’s means, and to adopt a step-by-step procedure in order to give meaning to the regulation.