Saturday, August 14, 2010

Wooden Houses.

There is nothing unusual about wooden houses in Cambodia, outside of urban centers they are extremely common. Houses in Cambodia have been traditionally been built from wood, on stilts, for an undeterminable amount of time. The stilts were made from tree trunks, but more recent structures often use concrete pillars with a wooden house above. The reasons for raising a house like this vary, the most obvious reason being to avoid flooding, yet identical houses get built on hills and mountains. There is also a certain amount of security from wild animals and bandits involved in living above the ground up like this. What is probably more important than either of these concerns is air-flow. Cambodia is a very hot and humid place, and keeping cool is often difficult. Traditional wooden houses are built with high ceilings and raised on stilts with loose and porous walls and floors to aid a certain flow of air that might cool the inhabitants. During the day, few people stay up in their house anyway. The” ground floor” is often used to keep livestock at night, whether they are buffalos, pigs or ducks. These are taken to pasture during the day, and people hang out in the space, on hammocks, cooking or working, or washing from the giant urns that collect rainwater.

Cambodia had, until just a few decades ago, a huge amount of forest, so wood was easy to find and cheap. The recent rampant destruction of forest resources has changed this. Wood is now, because logging is officially banned and timber has to supposedly come from a licensed source, seriously expensive. Nobody uses wood to build now because it’s far cheaper to use concrete. Box-shaped concrete shop-houses are now gradually taking over. Some people manage adorn their villas with teak panels and mahogany stair-cases, but for most it’s just used for interior doors or furniture. What has to be taken into account is the security element. As a result of very real problems over the last four decades or so, security is paramount for people here. I have never lived in a house here that didn’t have bars on the windows, metal gates and razor-wire on the edges of the compound.

Wooden house aren’t at all secure. Your only defense might be keeping a few hungry mutts or geese downstairs, but anyone with a blade and intention could get through the floor, if they even had to bother. There are often easier ways to break in, through the flimsy doors or even walls or roofs. While I admire these buildings the fact that any vermin can get in if it wants is a concern.

All these pictures were taken in the central part of Phnom Penh around the Daun Penh, Prampi Makara and O’Russei areas, on the 16th of April 2010 when the city was pretty-much deserted because of Khmer New year. They are only remarkable because of their central locations and because they’ll all be replaced by more solid and less traditional structures soon. You can see these looming at the edges of most of the pictures, gradually encroaching on the wooden houses and inevitably replacing them.

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