Zaha Hadid has launched a design for the Sleuk Rith Institute, the office's first project in Cambodia and its first ever wooden construction. The building, situated in Phnom Penh, will act as a genocide memorial and also provide space for a museum, research centre, graduate school, archive and library focused on the atrocities committed by the former Cambodian regime, Khmer Rouge.
The vision of Youk Chhang, a human rights activist, Khmer Rouge investigator and director of Cambodia's Documentation Centre, the new complex will be a place for 'reflection, healing and reconciliation'. Chhang has been tirelessly collecting information and documents around the former regime and this archive will now find a permanent home in the Hadid-designed project. The Documentation Centre will be incorporated into the Sleuk Rith Institute, with Chhang remaining the founder and director.
Aiming to offer a 'different and more positively oriented direction', the project breaks with stereotypes associated with genocide-memorial architecture. The institute was designed to teach from the past but focus on the future, and also incorporates strong education and outreach programmes.
The complex is composed of five sustainably sourced timber structures, which rise from the ground separately but interweave upwards, referring back to the architecture of local sites – such as the ancient temples of Angkor Wat. Their height ranges from three to eight storeys and each houses a different function: the Sleuk Rith Institute; a library; a graduate school focusing on genocide, conflicts and human rights studies; a research centre and archive; a media centre; and an auditorium. Connections at various levels allow for flexibility and collaboration between functions.
Local climatic conditions were crucial to the design. Louvers keep the strong sunshine out, while the complex is built on raised terraces to protect it from the city's seasonal flooding. Pools around the site capture the light and reflect it back into the building – another element that links back to the architecture of temples such as Srah Srang and Angkor Wat. A passive design and the use of renewable energy sources increase the complex's ecological performance.
The five iconic volumes will be surrounded by a 68,000 sq m memorial park for use by the local community. Construction is planned to start on site next year.