Cambodia But does it float?

This is an archive page for Cambodia

Forthcoming dates for this school to be announced.


Chicken Dig Rubbish - In Search of Praxis

Tuesday 7 – Tuesday 21 August 2018

Sepia tinted pieces of chicken and splintered bones buried under a mound of burnt lemongrass is a mouth watering Khmer dish only found in Takeo Province. Deep-fried to perfection, the fibrous strands of lemongrass has the texture of candy floss, scent of bright citrus and deep savoury notes of roast chicken.

Like a chicken scourging a pile for rubbish for small morsels of food, we must unearth bits of meat beneath what seems like an inedible pile of hay.  This is a search for Praxis - the manner in which we are engaged with the world. If the world of architecture oscillates between theory and its manifestation, we are interested in the doing. A decade after building schools in Takeo, we decide to hold our first architectural design workshop in our latest unfinished project – Thnout School. On one hand, the search for praxis investigates the spatial practices and craftsmanship that is left in post-conflict Cambodia. On the other hand, we ask our participants to find the recurring passage as architects to design in this developing context. What does it mean to be a designer in vernacular architecture? Are we architects? Or are we simply practitioners of a craft?

The history of Cambodia is one of ingenuity, improvisation and resilience.  Our object of study will be food. The seemingly banal everyday event yet central to the cultural practice. Through understanding the material politics, commodity chains through local delicacies, we will use local cuisines as an anchor for our observation. We will travel to active sites of agricultural production and take inspiration from these ingredients that defines Cambodia today.

After this investigation, this 2-week workshop will heavily engage with hands-on making. We will propose additions to an existing village school and equip the campus with communal dining facilities. We will host our first food festival as part of the finale of the workshop as well as the academic year for the school.  We invite you to take a seat at the table.

Workshop Programme

Search – Touched down after your long flights, we will begin by immersing ourselves into the context. We will visit remote villages, pre-cast ornament workshop, brick factories and pottery homes. We will work in groups and search for local practices as our targets.

Design – Each group will identify their projects from the search process and formulate design proposals with a particular area of local knowledge. Since our site will be in an unfinished village primary school, your addition can be permanent or temporary for our annual celebration. Through sketches, hand-drawings and model making, we are interested in how architectural knowledge can be communicated in a developing context.

Situate – Before we dive into making, it is important for us to learn from the masters. We will make a day trip to Phnom Penh and see the most important modern architecture of Cambodia by Vann Molyvann. Pen Sereypagna, Director of the Vann Molyvann Project, will take us on a walking-tour through his work.

Make – Through making we will test and redesign conventions familiar to architects, but foreign to Takeo.  Following previous investigations, we will work closely with local workshop and materials to test ideas through models and drawings.  Juggling between the role of a client, architect and laborer we search for the unique design potential latent within each position.   

 Celebrate – Thnout school will be the site where we share our projects with the students and their families.  Our interventions will play a vital part in the summer festivities - a celebration of how the pursuit of education and design can bring communities together.

Prominent Features of the workshop/ skills developed


Material investigation / craft      

  • Terracotta – brick and tile factory visit
  • Concrete – Precast ornaments workshop visit
  • Timber – Carpentry workshop

Local knowledge

  • Foraging – village tour
  • Cooking – everyday culinary practice, market visits

Khmer Architecture

  • Modern Khmer Architecture Visits – Seminar / Walking Tour
  • Masterplan, typologies – Seminar

Operation / communication (drawing workshop)

  • Model making
  • Drawings
  • Photography


1) You can make an application by completing the online application found under ‘Links and Downloads’ on the AA Visiting School page. If you are not able to make an online application, email for instructions to pay by bank transfer. 

2) Once you complete the online application and make a full payment, you are registered to the programme. A CV and one drawing / image of your work is required.

The deadline for applications is 20 July 2018.

All participants travelling from abroad are responsible for securing any visa required, and are advised to contact their home embassy early. After payment of fees, the AA School can provide a letter confirming participation in the workshop.


Phsa Takao Village, Rokakhung Commune, Dunkeo District,Takeo Province, Cambodia.

Please note: We will arrange transportation once you landed Phnom Penh International Airport. Please give us your flight details once confirmed or let us know your alternative mode of transport.


The AA Visiting School requires a course fee of £595 per participant, which includes a £60 Visiting membership fee.

Fees do not include flights or accommodation. All participants will need to make a contribution of £250 towards food and accommodation in Takeo (to be paid directly to the Programme Heads upon arrival).

Students need to bring their own laptops, digital equipment and model making tools. Please ensure this equipment is covered by your own insurance as the AA takes no responsibility for items lost or stolen at the workshop.


The workshop is open to current architecture and design students, PhD candidates and young professionals. We accept students with background in art or design and must enjoy collaboration and teamwork.

Programme Heads Bio

James Mak is the Founder and Chairperson of Project Little Dream (PLD), a charity founded in Hong Kong that designs, builds and runs primary schools in Cambodia since 2009. With a strong belief that architecture is a fundamental agent in a developing context, his research has been about vernacular architectural practices in post-conflict Cambodia. He is the author of Of Dreams and Spaces, and has taught in Diploma 1 of the Architectural Association. He has a background in human geography and architecture, and was educated in the London School of Economics and the AA where he obtained his BA(Hons) and AA Diploma.

Alison Cheng has seven years of experience working in Cambodia, with projects ranging from the design of libraries and sanitation facilities to local material testing and fabrication. She is an Executive Director for Project Little Dream (PLD) and recently completed PLD’s fifth school in Thnout village. Her interest in both traditional and Modern Khmer architecture has heavily influenced her as an architect and maker. Having worked at The Center for Architectural Heritage Research in Hong Kong and Atelier FCJZ in Beijing, she is interested in architecture as both a literary and material craft.  Alison is educated at the Architectural Association and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. 


Programme Heads
James Mak
Alison Cheng

Programme Tutors
Joyce Chen
Hwajeong Lee
Pen Sereypagna
Timothy Tan
Francis Wong

Head of Visiting School

Christopher Pierce

T +44 20 7887 4014
F +44 20 7414 0782

Links & Downloads

Programme site

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