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The Artists Fighting Displacement in Phnom Penh

Generations have lived and worked in the White Building in Cambodia’s capital. Now, they’re looking for a way to stem the tide of redevelopment that would push them out.
Phnom Penh's White Building has attracted artists for generations. Now, they're being pushed out.
Phnom Penh's White Building has attracted artists for generations. Now, they're being pushed out. Eliah Lillis

Phnom Penh’s White Building—a fading relic of the 1960s—anchors a three-way intersection in a booming neighborhood, just blocks from a strip of bistros and trendy cocktail bars. In contrast, the four-story apartment building is grimy and crumbling. It seems to burst at the seams.   

Today there are few other remnants of its era—considered to be Cambodia’s ‘golden age’—or its architecture. Change is visible all around. Next door, the White Building’s original counterpart has been renovated beyond recognition. Behind it, cranes dot the horizon. Immediately to the east, a skyscraper is going up on a reclaimed spit of land between the apartments and the Mekong River. The large Chinese characters plastered on its side are visible from residents’ windows.