• Genealogy of Bassac
    Brian McGrath and Sereypagna Pen
    UR (Urban Research), 2021
    Brian McGrath & Sereypagna Pen

Sereypagna Pen, Schizoanalysis of White Building, 2015, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. © Sereypagna Pen.

Genealogy of Bassac presents a careful architectural study of an area in downtown Phnom Penh constructed on twenty-four hectares of landfill along the swampy floodplain of the Bassac River from the perspectives of artists and residents who have lived through five decades of genocide, exile, return, and eviction. It highlights a new creative generation in Phnom Penh whose emergence is a counter narrative to the current “casino urbanism” of the Cambodian regime. The genealogical methodology looks both at area's descent starting from the 1960s master plan by architect Vann Molyvann in order to provide affordable high-density housing adapted to Cambodian lifestyle and a new cultural center, and its creative emergence during an era of speculative development. The book untangles Phnom Penh’s complex history of urban ruptures as inheritor of the Khmer Empire, the satellite of French colonial Indochina, the site of early cosmopolitan independent experiments in architecture and urban planning, the hastily occupied informal settlement after the collapse of the Khmer Rouge, and the forced displacement of the urban poor with the rise of a neoliberal economy and the return of authoritarian rule.

Brian McGrath is professor of urban design and former dean of the School of Constructed Environments, Parsons School of Design and the founder and principal of Urban-Interface, LLC, an urban design consultancy fusing expertise in architecture, ecology and media. McGrath is a principle investigator in the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, where he leads the Urban Design Working Group. His books and publications include: Urban Design Ecologies Reader (Wiley, 2012), Digital Modeling for Urban Design (Wiley, 2008), Transparent Cities (Lumen Books, 1994), Resilience in Ecology and Urban Design (Springer, 2012), Growing Cities in a Shrinking World: The Challenges in India and China (Macmillan, 2010), Sensing the 21st Century City (Wiley, 2005), and Cinemetrics: Architectural Drawing Today (Wiley, 2007). McGrath served as a Fulbright Senior Scholar in Thailand (1998–99) and an India China Institute Fellow (2006–08) and was research director in the joint US-EU exchange program Urbanisms of Inclusion.

Sereypagna Pen is the director of the Vann Molyvann Project and urban researcher based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He has been awarded scholarships and fellowships including the Chevening Scholarship (2017–18), US/ICOMOS and East West Center (2015–16), Sa Sa Arts Project (2014–15), Asian Cultural Council (2012–13) and Parsons’ School of Constructed Environments as a visiting scholar (2012). Pen’s work on genealogy of urban form Phnom Penh, genealogy of Bassac, and Phnom Penh visions has been the subject of several exhibitions and presentations in Cambodia and selected venues in Asia, Australia, and the US such as Phnom Penh SaSa Bassac, Art Stage Singapore, Bangkok H Gallery, PARSONS the New School, Taipei Biennale 2016, and Sydney Biennale 2018. He has contributed essays to scholarly journals and books including Cité De L’architecture & Du Patrimoine (forthcoming 2019), Chulalongkorn University’s Nakhara: Journal of Environmental Design and Planning (2015), and Parsons Design Dialogues (2014).