Cambodia is calling

My flight to Phnom Penh is tonight. There awaits the just started constuction site of a youth center of my team’s design. I’m terribly excited! All through yesterday I found myself thinking about how did I end up with a project like this.

A few years ago my friends Maiju Suomi and Elina Tenho and I sat in lectures at the Aalto symposium in Jyväskylä, where architects from all over the world talked about how they had made a small change through their work. One of the lectures was by a finnish group Hollmen Reuter Sandman, who were also teachers at my university. After the lecture they told us that a new course was being planned for the beginning year, that involved building design in a developing country. We decided almost there and then that we’d take that course.

During the field trip in 2010 we met the organization Cambodian Volunteers for Society. They worked to engage the educated youth in developing the rural villages and also arranged activities for the urban youth from different communities to come together, discuss and solve common problems. In all the meetings we had with the organization during the course, they always brought some of the local kids with them to learn and tell their opinion. This was a small detail as such, but in the end I think it is what convinced us about their dedication to their work: not just teaching, but listening and offering possibilities.

By the end of the course Elina and I had designed CVS new facilities, a youth center to expand their work. After the course we gathered our like-minded friends together, and some discussions later decided to go forth with the project, to see how far we could get. This is when Komitu architects, including Elina, Maiju, Noora Aaltonen, Inari Virkkala, Sisko Hovila and me, was formed. Our team joined the organization Ukumbi, founded by the teachers that inspired us. Then we spent six months mainly sending e-mails, grant applications and letters, revising the project plan and counting a budget for our project.

Only after we received the first grant did the project turn more real. Suddenly we were going to Cambodia again, to discuss an actual building project with a client organization. A lot still has happened since to get us to this point that we have a site with the construction starting in a suburb of Phnom Penh Cambodia. It has by far not been just easy and straight forward, a lot of patience, perseverance and compromises have been needed on the way.

I’ll tell you more about it all in the following weeks, as I meet again some of the people we decided to do this with and for, and as the walls of the center start rising. But now Cambodia awaits, with it’s hot and humid climate, abundant sounds and smells and colors, and smiles on people’s faces.

Impessions of Cambodia