A centre for the study of atrocities committed by Pol Pot’s murderous Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia has been designed by Zaha Hadid Architects.
It will house the archive of documents about the genocide of the 1970s, in which two million people lost their lives.
The Sleuk Rith Institute will also be home to a research institute, 35 years after the end of the Khmer Rouge’s brutal reign and will be sited new park south of the centre of the capital, Phnom Penh.
The project is the vision of human-rights activist Youk Chhang, who has amassed a vast archive detailing the atrocities of the Communist regime from 1975 to 1979.
“We have to live with a long, dark shadow,” says Chhang, who lost his sister, as well as aunts and uncles, to Pol Pot’s reign of terror.
“We cannot escape it, but we shouldn’t be enslaved by it. I want the institute to bring something new and hopeful, and get us out of the mindset of being victims.”
The complex is planned to serve as a centre for genocide studies across Asia, with a strong educational and outreach component, and shares its site with a local high school – formerly home to a re-education camp.
It was founded as a focus for reflection, healing and reconciliation as well as an enlightening educational and research facility dedicated to commemorating the lives of the past by building a better future.
The Institute’s name Sleuk Rith means ‘the power of the leaves’. Cambodian religious leaders and scholars have used dried leaves for centuries to document history, disseminate knowledge, and preserve culture during periods of harsh rule and grave peril.
During the 1970’s Youk Chhang, at the age of 15, was a prisoner under the Khmer Rouge and members of his family were victims of the regime. Through his Documentation Centre of Cambodia, he has spent more than a decade amassing details of atrocities committed by the former Cambodian regime,
The Khmer Rouge motto towards Cambodia’s population was “To keep you is no benefit. To destroy you is no loss.” It inflicted a policy which saw urban dwellers, artists, teachers and business people executed in an effort to bring about a purely agrarian society. Even medicines were banned causing thousands of deaths from preventable conditions.
The institute’s design is organized as five wooden structures that are separate volumes at ground level, but interweave and link together as they rise upwards; connecting the different departments, visitors, students and staff within a singular whole. With an overall footprint of 80m x 30m at the base and 88m x 38m at roof level, the structures range between three to eight storeys.
Each of these five buildings will house a different function: the Sleuk Rith Institute – a library holding the largest collection of genocide-related material in Southeast Asia – a graduate school focusing on genocide, conflicts and human rights studies – a research centre and archive to influence national and regional policies and discourse and a media centre and an auditorium that can be used by the institute and the entire community.
The architects said: “ As they gain in height and coalesce, the Sleuk Rith Institute’s five buildings define an intricate spatial composition of connecting volumes; generating a series of exterior and interior spaces that flow into each other to guide visitors through the different areas for contemplation, education, engagement and discussion.”