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Phteah Keung

Similar to vernacular traditions in other countries of Austronesian origins, houses for the more affluent in Cambodia differed from the ones of less wealthy families only by their larger size and the presence of refined features (carvings placed on door lintels, carved wood panels, etc.). The plan and the type of house remained the same. Yet despite these similarities, Cambodia’s typology of traditional dwellings does offer a unique feature- a dwelling type reserved for a specific class in Khmer society. The phteuh keung was reserved for high-ranking individuals [Népote, 2003, 105] Its hipped and gabled roof is particularly distinctive and shares many similarities with palatial architecture developed during Angkorian times. The flourishing court culture and bureaucracy during the Angkor classic period, as epitomized by the khlon -a bureaucrat appointed by the king in charge of col-lecting all kinds of revenues from the people - is well known; as thou Ta Kuan mentioned, houses of high-ranking individuals were distinctive in their features from commoners’ houses, although he didn’t mention any particular roof shape that these buildings may have had. A first clue on the possible origin from Angkorian palatial architecture is provided by Georges Groslier who pointed out similarities in propor-tions between the Angkorian stone vault and the modern wooden timber roof structure as seen in structureslike kuti o r phteah keung.10 As i n Angkorian temples, where the central vault is buttressed by galleries on each side, the two central rows of pillars of the house are partially relieved of their load-bearing function by two lean-tos on both sides (below).
A more striking piece of evidence is found in the wooden roof structure identified by Jacques Dumarcay in the bas-reliefs at the Bayon temple, which shares a lot of similarities with the roof structure featured in the phteah keung.11 Despite the two-dimensional representation of the wooden structure, the roof structure is clearly a tiered roof with an upper section sided by a lean-to (it is, however, impossible to know whether the lean-to was built on both sides of the main gallery). This roof structure was also used for the construction of the vihara Finally, a linguistic approach reveals the association of the term ‘keung’ (keng) with palatial architecture as the expression ‘roung keng dal’ means ‘hall adjacent to the palace’.12 The pkteuh keung was seldom recorded in the research: only one house in Wat Kor (Battambang province) fully inventoried and one in Preah Netr Preah district (Banteay Meanchey province) simply recorded. The phteah keung in Wat Kor displays a roof structure very similar to that of the vihara. The roof is divided in two sections, the upper part with two slopes and the lower part with four (below). The house’s occupants confirmed that this house form, which was traditionally associated with highranking officials, held true in this instance. The original owner, Luong Sneha, was a high-ranking official who worked for the lord governor when Battambang province was ruled by successive Cambodian princes close to the kingdom of Siam from 1794 to 1907. The original owner brought all the percious timber for the construction from the neighboring forests, probably his property. The house is made up of three parts: the main part (phteah keung), which was inhab-ited initially by the owner and his family; the second part (phteah pét referred to by the interviewee as phteah krachom), accommodating female servants; and the third part used as a kitchen, a very simple structure with a two-slope roof. Shelters at the back and front of the clusters of buildings which accommodated male servants have now disappeared. The large scale and specific roof form of the main part are clear indicators of the owner’s status, as are the refined elements and furniture found in the main house. Reaching higher levels of refinement, a wooden lattice had been placed under the roof structure inside the house to conceal it and to function as a ceiling, a rare feature in private houses. The reception space could accommodate up to 100 people for special ceremonies, like kathen.13 In addi-tion to this reception space, three rooms within the main house had been allocated as sleeping spaces for the family, each separated from the others by a solid partition. Breaking from the traditional use of wooden paneling, the walls of the house were made of bamboo lattice covered with limewash (left). This final aspect confers on the building an official and formal importance, similar to buildings of the colonial administration (right). The cluster of buildings is still surrounded by a large dey phum, another feature of the original owner’s status. The now badly maintained dey phum is but a vague reminder of what it must have been initially, as numerous species of age-old fruit trees still grow. A second phteah keung was recorded in Banteay Meanchey but not inventoried, as Banteay Meanchey province was not part of the three provinces surveyed (see p.42, bottom left). Much smaller in scale and size than the phteah keung located in Battambang, the house was also less refined in its features and consisted of only one room, with curtains to divide spaces. The house is said to have been built by a former mékhum It is now vacant, but the family is still attached to the house, with the descendant living in a house nearby.

[content from "Wooden Architecture of Cambodia", www.khmerstudies.org]

Detail drawings made by DIL SE:

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