Appearing as some great Art Deco spacecraft that just landed in the centre of Phnom Penh, the Psah Thom Thmey (Khmer for New Grand Market) is an impressive bright yellow assemblage of central dome and radiating wings.
*image courtesy Arte Charpentier Architects
Designed by French architects Louis Chauchon and Jean Dubois, the market was constructed between 1934 and 1937 on the site of a drained lake. Located as it is in a hot and humid climate, the building represents a good example of both considered regional and contemporary stylistic design.
The overall form of the building references traditional Khmer architecture, particularly that found at the Angkor Wat complex. The large central dome resembles a squat version of the tiered towers found at the main temple, whilst the wings can be read as imitations of the long, enclosed gallery’s that form its perimeter. Ventilation is provided by a series of openings cascading from the dome in a terraced fashion and continuing along each of the four arms. Decorated with chevron patterned screens, the apertures are shaded by awnings which wrap around the ends of the wings in a classically Moderne style.
The market has undergone two major renovations since its opening; the first after World War Two when repairs were made to extensive damage inflicted by the Thai air force during the brief Franco-Thai war of 1940-41; A second refurbishment was initiated in 2005 and completed in 2010. Funded by the French Development Agency (Agence française de développement) the project improved access infrastructure and added new market stall facilities in addition to a general sprucing up of the original building.
At the time of its construction the market was considered by many to be too big relative to the population of Phnom Penh. The reinforced concrete dome itself, with a diameter of 45 metres, remained the largest in Asia until 1960. By this time, of course, the city had swelled in numbers and the market is now crowded daily with a multitude of vendors, customers and, increasingly, tourists.