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Interview with Romain Brenas, IN / ON Architecture

12 January 2016

IN / ON architecture agency has been located on the second floor of Confluences’ incubator since its official opening. This local partner of a Parisian firm has undertaken several projects on private homes, hotels, and public institutions. An interview has been conducted with the French-Cambodian architect CEO, Romain Brenas.

Romain, can you tell us about your professional career?

I came to Cambodia in 2010 from Paris. I used to work as an architect for a global firm. I have followed a long interior design program, first at Olivier de Serres school, than at the National  School of Decorative Arts (Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs), and finally at the Paris-Malaquais National School of Architecture . I graduated in 2007 with a DPLG licensed architect diploma.

I first came to Cambodia to rediscover my French-Khmer roots giving the fact that my father was born in Siemreap to a Khmer mother and a French father who served in the French armed forces. It was in 1946, well before the Cambodian refugee wave to France during the Khmer Rouge regime. My father only resided in Cambodia for four years of his life. He could not pass on any Khmer customs, nor talk to me about its traditions because he was unfortunately cut off. I therefore developed a keen interest in the country which has motivated me to consider starting a new life there after several travel arrangements were made between 2008 and 2010.

Once I was settled in Phnom Penh, I immediately found a job at a French-Cambodian architecture firm. I worked there for two and a half years. I later became a manager for a Swedish established firm before starting my own a year and half later with help of French partners.

Can you talk to us a about your agency?

The agency was created in the summer of 2014.

To me, opening this agency in Phnom Penh is putting forth the skills and expertise of a Parisian agency in the Cambodian market. We do not intend to adapt ourselves to local standards, but rather to work based on French standards and norms.

What is your opinion concerning the Cambodian market and its evolution?

Cambodia is always in dire need for experienced professionals from various fields. The construction sector has especially been affected to such a point that what one can see today is the result of total anarchy, both in urban regulation and construction standards. The city of Phnom Penh used to be considered the pearl of Asia, but today it is gradually losing its edge.

It is quite difficult to convey the value of our work, because the majority of investors have no idea of the architecture’s added value, and furthermore, there is no legal obligation in hiring a professional architect. As a result, buildings are being constructed in a hurry. I very much hope that the Cambodian government acts and regulates the construction market.  We cannot allow developers to continue threatening people’s quality of life.

What could a French agency such as yours bring in terms of genuine added value?

In a context of rapid growth, it may be tempting to leave out quality and professionalism. It is simply against my principles. I can assure you that there are only two possible choices from the three components of a project: quality, price and speed. One cannot have speed and good quality without putting a price on it. You cannot have cheap construction and speed, and expect quality. It is also much more difficult to expect a reasonable price on quality without it being time-consuming. Architecture and design are neither commodities nor an exact science. Sometimes, it is difficult for people who are not familiar with construction and design to grasp this concept.

Can you talk to us about any of your future projects?

We just finished remodeling the main lobby of the language learning center of the French Institute. Compared to the first renovation project in which I took part three years ago, this time the student’s reception area was especially taken into account. The image that this center portrays is very important, since this is actually a piece of France in the heart of Phnom Penh.

We also are actually collaborating with Raffles in a remodeling project for Le Royal restaurant. For me, this is the continuity of what I did on the Eléphant bar when I was working with my previous employer. There is definitely prestige in this kind of project because it is a place rich in history. However, one also needs to adapt a historical venue to the changes of consumer behavior.  It is also rewarding to work with quality professionals, including customers, craftsmen and suppliers.

In addition, a new place will open for an F&B key player in Cambodia. They will soon open a new gourmet boutique and a cafe in Phnom Penh. It was such a crucial task because it involved transforming a gorgeous colonial house situated in a very well located neighborhood, and we also had to cope with a lot of challenges, including challenges in terms of cost control.

Contact : Romain BRENAS
Email : rb@in-on.com
Phone : 012 992 244
Website : in-on.com

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