The Civilizing Vision of an Enlightened Dictator: Norodom Sihanouk and the Cambodian Post-Independence Experiment (1953–1970)

  • Helen Grant RossEmail author
Part of the Transcultural Research – Heidelberg Studies on Asia and Europe in a Global Context book series (TRANSCULT)


In the short fifteen-year period following independence in 1953, Cambodia underwent a complete social and economic transformation and saw the emergence of all fields of artistic expression as well as the construction of hundreds of buildings, new towns, urban extensions, and infrastructure designed in an innovative style called “New Khmer Architecture.” A phenomenon like this is rare in any society and one questions what socio-political context enabled Cambodia to achieve so much in so short a time. This essay will address the political dynamic behind this ambiguous and unusual experiment in which nationalism and modernization as well as tradition worked together on a basis of religious ethics. Who were the major players in this unusual experiment? What forces were at work to encourage not only the construction of thousands of buildings to serve society’s needs, but also the emergence of an authentic and unique architecture movement?


Prime Minister Khmer Rouge National Pride Territorial Development Unusual Experiment 
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Other related papers and publications by the author

  1. Grant Ross, Helen. 2001. “On the Road to Sihanoukville—Territorial Development under the Sangkum Reastr Niyum.” Paper presented at the conference and exhibition at Phnom Penh Municipality, November 1, 2001.Google Scholar
  2. ——. 2003. Battambang Bad Dambaungle Bâton PerduHistoire d‘une Ville. Phnom Penh: 3D Graphics Pub.Google Scholar
  3. ——. 2005a. “Tradition Transcended.” Journal of South East Asian Architecture 8: 27–39.Google Scholar
  4. ——. 2005b. “The South-East Asian Water-bound Tradition versus a Colonial Earth-bound Society.” In The Annals of the Conference Re-thinking and Re-constructing Modern Asian Architecture (mAAN—modern Asian Architecture Network Conference Re-thinking and Re-constructing Modern Asian Architecture, June 27–30, 2005, Istanbul), edited by Yıldız Salman, Gül Neşe Doğusan, İstanbul Teknik Üniversitesi and Modern Asian Architecture Network, 283–92. İstanbul: İstanbul Teknik Üniversitesi.Google Scholar
  5. ——. 2006. “New Khmer Architecture—the Cambodian experiment 1953–1970.” Paper presented at the conference Nation, City, Place: Rethinking Nationalism, Melbourne, July 14–16, 2006.Google Scholar

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Architect and Urban PlannerCesmeTurkey

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