Grand Market, Phnom Penh

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.

market aerial

*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.




Art in Place #3

Hosie’s Hotel

When Melbourne was selected in 1949 to host the 1956 Olympic Games, the city was still a relatively small urban centre composed mainly of low rise 19th and early 20th century buildings. A prolonged depression, followed by a world war, had brought new construction and infrastructure development almost to a complete halt, and the city lacked many modern amenities required for the expected influx of visitors. This, of course, included hotel accommodation.

In 1953 Carlton & United Breweries announced plans to construct a modern, air conditioned 13 floor hotel on the corner of Elizabeth and Flinders Street. The site had been occupied by a pub since the mid-19th century, which was purchased in 1885 by well-known hotelier James Hosie.

Hosie's 1

Opening in 1955, the new Hosie’s Hotel (designed by architectural firm Mussen, Mackay & Potter) was an interesting amalgam of a low, glass fronted podium integrated into the hotel room tower behind it. With its tiled, rendered and painted surfaces, and windows of various dimensions, the building had a playful appearance that contrasted with the often stark Modernist commercial designs of the time.

The visual interest is further enhanced by a four-storey high mural on the Elizabeth Street elevation. Composed of small ceramic tiles, the abstract image (representing three glasses clinking together) was designed by English graphic designer Richard Beck (1912-1985).

Beck studied art and design in both London and Munich before setting up his own design consultancy service. Throughout the late 1930s he produced posters and publicity material for various organisations including London Transport and the Orient Line; work that exhibited his obvious talent for expressing the new Modernist visual language.

Poster 1

Leaving England for New Zealand in 1939, Beck eventually settled in Australia in 1940, establishing Richard Beck Associates after the war. The consultancy prospered throughout the 1940s and 50s, collecting numerous industry awards and cementing Beck’s professional reputation as a leading figure in contemporary graphic design. In 1954 he entered, and subsequently won, the design competition for the official 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games poster. Initially released in December, 1954, as a stamp to promote the upcoming games, Beck’s design was awarded a bronze medal at the International Stamp Congress in Milan in 1956.

Olympic Poster

*image courtesy National Gallery of Victoria

In addition to a diverse range of commissions and ongoing awards, Beck’s career was also highlighted by appointments to various industry related positions throughout the following years including Associate of the Industrial Design Institute of Australia (1958) and Head of Graphic Design at the Prahran Technical College (1969). He also served on the consultancy panel during the 1960s for the design of Australia’s new decimal currency.

A significant figure in the post-war history of Australian graphic design, Richard Beck’s work is now represented in numerous art collections throughout the country and abroad. His most accessible piece is one of the few large-scale abstract works on public display in Melbourne from this period and, as such, is now listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.





Zaha Hadid

A general history of significant architecture over the last 100 or so years would leave many to believe that few females have ever sat at a drafting board or manipulated a CAD program. Of course, women have been practising architecture for centuries. French noblewoman Katherine Briçonnet wielded great influence over the design of the Château de Chenonceau in the Loire valley during the 16th century. In 17th century England, Lady Elizabeth Wilbraham (1632–1705), who studied the works of contemporary Dutch and Italian architects, was said to have tutored Sir Christopher Wren.

Although by the 20th century far more women were becoming involved in architecture, it was often in the form of spousal collaborations. The overwhelmingly masculine nature of the industry often led to the adulation of the heroic (male) individual’s achievements, placing the female partner in the shade of fame. While the post war decades saw an increasing focus on the contribution of women in the field, any top ten lists of globally recognised ‘superstar’ architects almost invariably resemble an exclusive men’s club. Indeed, since its inception in 1979, the coveted Pritzker Architecture Prize has only once been awarded to a female practitioner.

Born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1950, Zaha Hadid moved to London in 1972 to study at the Architectural Association School of Architecture. Hadid’s first major commissioned work, a small fire station in Weil-am-Rhein, Germany (1991-93), revealed the trajectory of her subsequent projects; an eclectic form of Deconstructivism that incorporated the use of sharp angles and, increasingly in later projects, dramatic curves.  Slowly building throughout the 1990’s, Hadid’s career accelerated into the 21st century with a succession of high profile architectural competition wins including the Contemporary Arts Centre, Cincinnati (1997–2000), and the BMW Administration Building (2001–2005). It was at this moment in her career that she was awarded the Pritzker Prize (2004), with Thomas Pritzker, the head of the jury, stating, “Although her body of work is relatively small, she has achieved great acclaim and her energy and ideas show even greater promise for the future.”

Andreas Schwarzkopf

Weil-am-Rhein Fire Station (image courtesy Wikipedia)

Many of Hadid’s later projects can be found throughout Asia, with one of the most spectacular being the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, in Seoul, South Korea (2007–2013). The Design Plaza is located in the dense shopping precinct of Dongdaemun, literally meaning ‘Great East Gate’, which refers to one of the eight entrances incorporated into the old city wall of the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1897). Surrounded by generally nondescript multi-level department store and indoor market buildings, the fluid curves of the structure’s facades, clad in 45,000 back lit aluminium panels, create a strong juxtaposition of urban forms. The effect is enhanced by nightfall when the building emerges as some kind of deep sea organism, pulsing with light and movement. Visitors navigate the interior and exterior via interconnected raw concrete bridges and ramps, some of which lead to rooftop green spaces. Comprising multi-purpose conference and exhibition halls, the interior spaces are intended as art, design and technology hubs, partly contributing to Seoul’s designation as a World Design Capital in 2010.

Ken Eckert

Dongdaemun Plaza at Night (image courtesy Wikipedia)

Criticism has been levelled at the architecture by some urban observers who fear the Plaza not only ignores the precincts historical context but is also destined to become an expensive sculptural novelty in between sporadic design exhibitions and seminars. The historical context partly refers to the Dongdaemun sports stadium that was demolished to make way for the project. Originally constructed in 1925, the stadium was the site of a mass gathering in 1945 when up to 250,000 citizens came together to celebrate the end of Japanese colonial rule. Periodically upgraded throughout the 1960s, the stadium was the main focus for major sports events in Seoul until more modern facilities were constructed for the 1988 Olympic Games.

To be fair to the Plaza developers, spaces were allotted within the complex for the collection, display and preservation of artefacts and memorabilia related to both the stadium and other structures found on the site during construction. This includes items and structural elements related to a Joseon era fortress which would have remained undiscovered had the stadium remained.

DDP 16

Archaeological Evidence of Jeoson Era Fortress with Preserved Dongdaemun Stadium Floodlights in the Background.

Regardless of whether the Dongdaemun Design Plaza successfully fulfils its intended function throughout the following decades, it will remain a dramatic built example of an internationally recognised female architect’s work.

Zaha Hadid passed away in the United States on the 31st of March, 2016.

Blades and Shades

Since the beginning of human civilisation the form that shelter has taken has, to a large degree, been dictated by available local materials and climate. Whether the purpose was to keep the rain out or the heat in, the practical structural features that protect against the elements have generally preceded those of a stylistic or decorative nature.

This notion of the practical needs dictating the form of a building was famously espoused by the Modernist architects of the early 20th century, although it was related more to overall function rather than specific climactic issues. Stripped of superfluous ornamentation, the resulting designs were meant to represent an architecture in its purest form; an architecture firmly of the present, devoid of any historical or cultural references.

In this sense, Modernist architecture was seen as a global template that could be applied to any urban environment with little heed paid to local conditions. The adoption by the corporate world of the glass curtained skyscraper as the universal built form of capitalism during the 1950s and 60s is the most evident example of this ‘International Style’. Subsequently maligned as contributing to the generic aesthetics of many modern cities, the dependency of many such designs (essentially hermetically sealed glass boxes) on internal climate control systems, especially in warmer regions, was also criticised.

Of course, not all Modernist practitioners disregarded the unique environmental aspects of a site for the sake of clean design. Swiss French architect Le Courbusier incorporated ‘brise-soleil’, or sun-breakers, into many of his early post-war designs, including the government complex at Chandigarh, India.


*image courtesy Wikipedia

The corporate skyscraper also evolved, with the increased use of solid, modular concrete facades throughout the 1960s and 70s. Australian architect Harry Seidler designed a series of office towers, mainly in Sydney, that utilised various forms of window recesses and shading to control the heat from the harsh southern hemisphere sun.

Australia Square Tower (1967) & MLC Tower (1977)

Thus Modernism, like any other architectural style, was gradually adapted to the particular environments in which it appeared; an organic process that enabled a far more practical and liveable built outcome than its rather uncompromising, machine derived origins would have permitted.

The South-East Asia region provides particularly rich examples of this climate driven design due to its harsh tropical environment. From Singapore and Thailand to Cambodia and Laos, egg crate facades, projecting vertical blades and perforated concrete screens can be found adorning all kinds of mid-century era buildings. These architectural features lend the streetscapes a geometrically textural quality that, along with the often weather worn painted surfaces, produce a unique regional urban play of light and form.

Art in Place #2

Tom Bass

According to art critic John Mc Donald, during the 1950’s and 60’s Tom Bass was “The only Australian sculptor who understood the importance of bringing art to the widest possible audience”.

Born in 1916 in Lithgow, New South Wales, Bass studied sculpture under the flamboyant Italian artist Dattilo Rubbo before enrolling in the National Art School in Sydney. After graduation, he went on to develop his philosophy of sculpture; being a maker of totemic forms or emblems expressing significant community and societal ideas.

In the years following the Second World War Australia witnessed a modernisation and increased internationalisation of the corporate sector. This was expressed not only in the way such entities operated but in the architecture they commissioned. Office towers were constructed utilising new engineering technology such as curtain wall facades and rose to new levels as a result of relaxed height restriction laws. The desire to appear modern and progressive led in turn to the commissioning of contemporary art for display on both the interior and exterior of many corporate, civic and campus buildings during the 1950s and 60s.

Throughout this period, Bass’s work became extremely popular with architects and public commissioning bodies, appearing in corporate, public and institutional environments all over Australia. As in Sydney, Bass’s sculptures once dotted the urban landscape of Melbourne’s CBD, but many have unfortunately been lost through demolition and re-development. Those that survive include ‘Transportation’ (former H.C Sleigh building), ‘Children’s Tree’ (former Colonial Mutual building) and the works adorning Wilson Hall on the grounds of Melbourne University.

Wilson Hall (1956) represents a collaboration between the artist and an architectural firm that would subsequently span both the academic and corporate worlds. Melbourne based Bates Smart & McCutcheon designed the new Wilson Hall (the original hall, constructed between 1878 and 1882, was destroyed by a fire in 1952) in a manner that reflected contemporary European Modernism, particularly that of Scandinavia. Walls of tan brick frame a large glazed curtain wall on the east facade, lending a lightness to the otherwise unadorned block form. Bass was commissioned to produce artwork for the building and set about creating a series of relief panels and sculptures expressing the idea of university. The four panels on the west wall represent, from left to right, observation, contemplation, teaching and learning and the talents of knowledge.  Hanging above the main entrance is a copper panel depicting the oration of Socrates at his trial.  In addition to representing the function of the hall, the motif also, in Bass’s words, reflected the “Sacrificial integrity that is essential to true scholarship”.

Bass was commissioned by Bates Smart & McCutcheon for a number of the firm’s projects during this period including ICI House in Sydney (the sculpture ‘Research’ which survived the demolition of the building in 1996 and now hangs on the north wall of the Quay Grand Suites) and the H.C Sleigh building in Melbourne.


*’Research’, 1959.

H.C Sleigh was the eponymously named company of Harold Crofton Sleigh, formed in 1895 and primarily involved in the shipping and petroleum industries. During the immediate post-war years, H.C Sleigh expanded rapidly, becoming a public company in 1947 and moving into a new Melbourne headquarters on Queen Street in 1955. Growth continued into the 1960’s necessitating the construction of a larger office building in 1962 on the corner of Queen and Bourke Streets. Executed by Bates Smart & McCutcheon the building exhibits the firm’s enthusiastic use of mixed materials and colour detailing.

Wide stone double banding wraps the building, intersected by slim columns faced with bright gold mosaic tiles. The corner columns are finished in contrasting grey-blue ceramic tiles matching the dark recessed bands that cut through the stone panels. The resulting busy grid pattern was criticised at the time for its lack of either strong vertical or horizontal expression, lending ambiguous form to the overall structure. It is, nonetheless, a well-proportioned building that, thanks to the contrast of line and colour, possesses a lightness that other stone and concrete facades of the era lack.

On the Queen Street side, in an alcove occupied by the buildings service tower, hangs a copper sculpture. Depicting a figure holding a wheel, it is titled ‘Transportation’, alluding to the prime activities of the company.

The grand building that the Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Company purchased in 1923, situated on the corner of Elizabeth and Collins streets, was originally constructed for the U.S based Equitable Life Assurance Society in 1893. A prominent fixture in the CBD for 67 years, this monumental exercise in ‘American Renaissance’ style was demolished in 1960 to make way for the company’s new premises.

Sitting above a black granite faced retail space, the new office block was originally clad with a grid work of cream Italian marble and grey granite. The granite was sourced locally from the Victorian town of Harcourt and was incorporated as a reference to the previous 1893 building which had utilised the same stone in its design. The curtain wall has since been re-clad with the exception of the grey granite spandrel elements. The black granite retail component remains, with the company initials, CML, carved into the columns.


The twenty-foot set back from the Elizabeth Street frontage created a small plaza which incorporates the sculpture known as ‘Children’s Tree’. Bass initially thought the idea of a sculpture related to children, as espoused by the insurance company, somewhat strange. However, as he began work on the piece, the concept of “This little incident in the heart of a great bustling city that would remind people of their childhood” increasingly appealed to him.


Although much of Bass’s corporate work has disappeared from public view his many academic and institutional commissions remain in place, including works at Sydney University and the National Library of Australia.

Tom Bass continued working well in to the 1980’s and 90’s and in 1988 was made a Member of the Order of Australia for services to sculpture. He died in February 2010 at the age of 94.


Cities rise and fall on the booms and busts of economic fortune.

Whether the source of wealth is trade, precious metals or empire, the party inevitably ends and both the fortunes made and those who made them move on. What is left is the architecture; an often eclectic historical built record of urban destiny.

The Malaysian city of Ipoh began as a small village on the banks of the Kinta River. Long known as a rich source of tin, the Kinta valley witnessed its first major tin rush in 1884 with an influx of predominately Chinese miners. Ipoh expanded rapidly, albeit haphazardly, and a devastating fire in 1892 was seen as an opportunity to develop the urban centre in a more orderly fashion. Subsequently laid out in a conventional grid, the town emerged anew and continued to prosper on the back of a second mining boom that lasted until the latter half of the 20th century. From late 19th century shophouses and Art Deco cinemas to post-war Modernist office blocks, representative architecture from this relatively long period of prosperity can be found throughout the city.

Ipoh 10

Split roughly in two by the Kinta river, the area to the west is referred to as the ‘old town’, where many examples of British colonial era architecture can be found. This includes the grand Edwardian Baroque train station which opened in 1917. Referred to by locals as the ‘Taj Mahal of Ipoh’, it was designed by British architect Arthur Benison Hubback who was also responsible for Ipoh Town Hall (1914) situated opposite. Hubback was involved in many important architectural projects throughout British Malaya including the spectacular Moorish government offices in Kuala Lumpur, now known as the Sultan Abdul Samad Building (1897).

The old town district also possesses a wide range of domestic and commercial architecture from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, primarily in the form of shophouses. Many are painted in bright colours and display the original owners name in embossed Chinese characters on external pillars.

The eastern side of Ipoh, or ‘new town’, was largely developed in the early 20th century by wealthy miner Yau Tet Shin. Born in 1859, Tet Shin started working as an illiterate tin mining coolie in Seremban before becoming a street hawker. He later opened a grocery store in Ipoh and was soon successful enough to begin investing in the tin mining industry, from which he eventually made his considerable fortune.

Built with better infrastructure and wider roads for the benefit of motorcars, new town provided a more contemporary urban site for the increasingly Modernist architectural styles that were emerging throughout the 1930s and 40s. Berthel Michael Iversen was a Danish architect who came to Malaysia in 1928, settling in Ipoh. He designed a wide range of Modernist structures in his new home, most notably a series of cinemas constructed from the late 1930s to the 50s. One of those still standing is the Art Deco Ruby Cinema, sited prominently on a street corner.

Scattered throughout Ipoh are an interesting assortment of low rise, post-war offices, many displaying the characteristic South-East Asian Modernist motifs of deep egg crate facades and expressive blade forms. This is, of course, primarily a method of passive climate control in a region of unrelenting heat and sun, but it also lends an interesting textural quality to the streetscapes.

The tin mining industry had been in decline for a couple of decades before prices crashed in 1985. The population of Ipoh stagnated along with the economy as people left, seeking work elsewhere. In the last few years, however, the city has witnessed something of a revival. Hip cafes and boutique hotels now inhabit once derelict shophouses and numerous museums enable visitors to explore a diverse and fascinating past. Trading primarily on its abundant built heritage, Ipoh, the third largest city in Malaysia, is once more a bustling centre of activity.