Sleuk Rith Institute

The Sleuk Rith Institute, a new institution and genocide memorial in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, brings together a museum, research centre, graduate school, document archives and research library. The vision of Youk Chhang, a human rights activist and investigator of the Khmer Rouge atrocities, the Sleuk Rith Institute was founded by Chhang 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 creates a new dialogue with the emerging The Sleuk Rith Institute will house the Documentation Centre of Cambodia’s one million documents in its archives and, as the largest collection of genocide related material in Southeast Asia, will become a global centre for education and research into the documentation, causes and prevention of genocide. Youk Chhang is the Founder of the Sleuk Rith Institute and Executive Director of the Documentation.

Centre of Cambodia, which was established by Yale University. The Institute’s name Sleuk Rith means “the power of the leaves’. Cambodian religious leaders have used dried leaves for centuries and scholars to document history, disseminate knowledge, and preserve culture during periods of harsh rule and grave peril. During the 1970s 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 Democratic Kampuchea (DK), which is also known as the Khmer Rouge. Despite the tragic history explored at the institute, Youk Chhang’s research led to the very considered brief for a building that promoted reflection and reconciliation, and also inspired and innovated.

“Cambodia will never escape its history, but it does not need to be enslaved by it. Post-conflict societies have to move on,” he says. This brief required a direction that breaks from some of the stereotypes associated with genocide memorial architecture.

“In the context of genocide and mass atrocity, memorial architecture has tended to reflect the evil and misfortune of the historical period it represents,” he says. “In this sense, the architecture’s legacy is dark, sombre, and firmly oriented to the past.” “We were keen to create a forward-looking institution that deviates from the distress-invoking, quasi-industrial, harshness of most existing genocide memorial models. This is not to criticize or denigrate such models but, instead, to emphasize that in light of a Cambodia’s rich cultural and religious traditions, we must move in a different and more positively-oriented direction.”

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