Cambodia's Sleuk Rith Institute to be Zaha Hadid's first large-scale wooden project

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Cambodia's Sleuk Rith Institute will be Hadid's first large-scale wooden project (Image: ZHA)

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Zaha Hadid is best known for producing flowing structures made from modern materials like concrete, but the Iraqi-British architect has unveiled her first large-scale wooden project. If the end result lives up to the promise shown by the early renders Hadid's office has made available to the press, Cambodia's Sleuk Rith Institute may well end up being rated amongst the architect's finest work to date.

Once complete, the Sleuk Rith Institute will serve as headquarters for Cambodian non-governmental organization Documentation Center of Cambodia, which was created in 1995 to document the atrocities committed by the country's infamously brutal Khmer Rouge regime.

The institute will feature a 68,000 sq m (732,000 sq ft) public memorial park containing sports fields, a vegetable garden, fruit orchards, and Cambodian sculptures. It will also include a library, graduate school, a media center, an auditorium, and a research center and archive that's home to the largest archive of genocide-related documents in Southeast Asia.

A half-step away from Hadid's signature style, Sleuk Rith Institute's design centers around five wooden towers which taper similarly to Hadid's Coronation Towers proposal. The towers rise between three and eight stories high, and will be built on raised terraces to protect from flooding. Further highlighting the concerns regarding flooding in the area, the institute's park slopes away from the building and is landscaped so as to ensure that monsoon rains flow safely into a retention pond, rather than flood the area.

Access to the institute's entrance is gained via causeways, which are raised above rainwater-fed pools. At ground level, the towers appear separate structures, but join together at several places higher up to allow easy inter-department access from within. The narrow lower levels of the institute are shaded by the building’s tapering form, with louvers employed to reduce the sun's harshness for those on the upper floors.

Sleuk Rith Institute will be mostly constructed from sustainably-sourced timber and sport roof-based photovoltaic cells and a solar thermal array for hot water. The institute will also feature heat exchangers, a wastewater treatment system, and a system to recover water condensation from the air for later reuse.

Though large-scale construction using wood offers definite benefits, it also poses unique challenges. Locating and transporting a large quantity of sustainably-sourced wood, while protecting against the harmful effects of the hot and wet tropical climate may prove headache-inducing, and there is also fire and termite protection to consider.

However, though the Sleuk Rith Institute will be Hadid's first project to feature wood as a primary building material, the architect has plenty of experience working with it. Baku's Heydar Aliyev Centre features an oak interior, while the roof of Hadid's London Aquatics Centre is also clad in ash – both of which have earned Hadid praise from critics.

Construction on the Sleuk Rith Institute is due to begin next year.

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