Are tall skyscraper towers or buildings necessary in Phnom Penh?

The world has seen the rapid development of super-tall buildings over the past few decades and this trend is particularly noticeable in Asia thanks to the economic booms in the key markets. 

Building high-rises or skyscrapers is a good indicator of economic prosperity. A skyscraper will usually contain one or more of the following: cultural venues, entertainment, hotel, retail, world-class offices and 360-degree views of the city, but such developments can also signal property bubbles.

“It is a yes-and-no answer whether it is necessary for Phnom Penh to build skyscrapers. It really depends on the concept of the development. In certain areas, it is logical to build high-rise buildings whereas it is not in some areas,” according to Chhayleang Nguon, CEO of Ratanaka Realty.

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), an international body in the field of tall buildings and sustainable urban design, defines the term ‘tall building’ as one higher than 150 metres. Today, the Phnom Penh skyline is filled with buildings of 8-15 floors and these buildings are spread out across the city. 

To date, the city has not seen a completed super-tall building. However, there are two super-tall buildings being proposed: a 78-floor mixed-use development which is 300 metres high; and the plans for the 133-floor Thai Boon Roong Twin Trade Center, situated on 5 hectares of prime real estate opposite the NagaWorld Entertainment Complex. 

In general, condominium buildings over 20 floors are popular and can command higher prices per square metre. This also applies to offices which can achieve relatively higher rentals. At the same time, the buyers or tenants will also weigh between the increased price/rental against the development. When it comes to height, the preference will be somewhere from 12 floors up to 50 floors, or 200 metres.

To build a high-rise or skyscraper, it certainly commands high quality in terms of designing, planning and other specifications. The taller it gets, the more demanding the construction criteria because it must meet the challenges of earthquakes and wind resistance. Other factors also need to be taken into accounts such as elevator connectivity or fire separation. The standards for the air-conditioning systems and power supply are generally much higher than low-rise buildings.

“Most of the high-rise buildings are constructed for the investors. For the general population, they still prefer to live in a low-rise and low-density building,” said Chan Mlop Sokha from Sokha Law Firm.

Phnom Penh is seeing a new trend here where some high-rise developments paired with top hotel brands to strengthen the image of these buildings, for example, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts with the Vattanac Capital Tower and Shang-ri La Hotel with The Peak. This boosts the confidence of the tenants in terms of operation and design and the quality standards by these operators.

However, the prospects for high-rise/skyscraper office buildings may not be so impressive in Phnom Penh considering the cost of development against the achievable rentals. There is definitely not enough demand from the types of tenants who are willing to pay a rental premium, and the existing office buildings have satisfied the current requirements of tenants in the office market.

In other key markets such as Hong Kong and Singapore, office skyscrapers can command a rental premium way over the market average. Similarly for residential condominiums, a developer should consider how much of a premium it can achieve before making the decision to proceed with a high-rise/skyscraper project, as the market will favourably perceive quality over height.

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