When we think about multi-functional spaces, we might conjure images of state-of-the-art and modern facilities for conferences, or modular rooms with smart furniture that easily convert from one type to another as the need arises. In Cambodia there’s one type of structure found in most cities and provinces that connect communities and support different functions without the help of ultra-modern features.
The ‘sala chhan’, which translates directly to ‘dining or eating hall’ is a gathering hall found in village pagodas traditionally used for religious celebrations, festivals and prayers by monks and where pagoda-goers come to make offerings.
On May 19, 2022, the Y Chhe Group inaugurated the sala chhan at Wat Odom Kiri Preksa, a pagoda located in T’pong district in Kampong Speu province where a ceremony was held to offer some food, funds and other essentials to around 400 elderly, students, and religious leaders.
Though traditionally made of wood, today’s modern versions of sala chan can range in shape, size and build. This modern sala chhan is a semi-open structure made of steel and concrete, with tall round pillars ornately decorated with religious and mythical buddhist creatures like the naga painted in vibrant blue, red and golds. The walls burst with colors in paintings depicting Buddhist teachings and scenes.
On one corner, a dedicated place holds various religious statues where prayers and blessings are received. Along one of the walls is a platform where monks perform ceremonies and blessings for those coming to pray, make offerings and ask for blessings. On days when there are no large celebrations, this platform will likely transform into a stage where monks conduct their lessons.
Besides being a place of religious ceremony, the sala chhan can also double as a learning space for those who don’t have access to formal education. Often children in provinces who can’t attend school can choose to enter monkhood and study through the pagoda at the sala chhan which converts to a communal study hall. At times it provides a shelter and a sanctuary for those who do not have a home.
An essential structure in pagoda complexes, the sala chhan is a good example of an important traditional space that is multi-functional and inclusive, an architectural heritage that fosters connections and one that has the capacity to transform and support society. It teaches us that design doesn’t have to be complex or modern to be useful and to enhance the lives of both young and old. At Y Chhe’s one of our missions as a company is to ensure we contribute to our communities by giving people access to dignified spaces, whether it’s a serviced apartment, an office and retail space, or a humble sala chhan.