The lack of urban planning is an issue – Toshishige Kawauchi

Cocochi Cam Design is a construction design company who entered Cambodia in 2013, they also have branches in Laos, Singapore and Taiwan. They design commercial facilities, residential units, factories with designability, and expand businesses rooted locally.
We interviewed Mr. Toshishige Kawauchi, the CEO, to learn about the facts that Cambodia faces. (Interviewed at: August, 2017)

Interviewee Profile

Kawauchi Toshishige: CEO of Cocochi Cam Design.

Focusing on creating a comfortable environment for the workers

After the last interview in March 2015, do you see any changes in Cambodian people’s interests in the architecture and design industry?

I remember that Brown coffee was coming into trend at the time I was interviewed two and a half years ago, it seems that the trend has now been established. In Phnom Penh, fashionable stores are increasing, and entertainment facilities are also on the increase especially near Aeon Mall. Design and lifestyles are diversifying, and this is a change in the past few years.

As Cambodian people originally favors a decorative culture, simple designs like you find in Japan are not popular. For that reason, we are trying to incorporate local designs while applying unique designs from Japan.


Your company deals with various construction projects but what is it that you value?

To conduct business in Cambodia, we always think about “New Khmer style” so we can localize with the Cambodian market. Currently, we are designing and managing a construction for a factory with the concept of greening. Many factories face the issue of quick turnover of their workers, and some factories are trying to create a pleasant work environment to prevent the loss of work force.

We believe that if you create a good environment then the productivity will rise as well, we also propose to our clients to create a good working environment so that workers can work comfortably. Our clients also agree with us on this matter. For that purpose, we conduct necessary research and investigations to gather information in the SEZ to reveal problems that factories face.

These values in designing are used for other concepts too, if it is a commercial complex, we think of the people who will be shopping there, if it is a residential complex, we focus on the comfort of the residents. In Cambodia there are not many design companies like ours, so we are always thinking about how to differentiate us from other companies in the design concept.


The backbone is different

You also run businesses in Laos and Taiwan, what are the differences comparing them with Cambodia?

In developing countries and developed countries, the backbone is very different in the first place. In countries such as Cambodia and Laos, the reality is that you have no choice but to rely on imported materials, because we do not have a wide choice in locally sourced building materials. We cannot design the blue print unless we know the country’s construction industry well, what kind of building materials are in that country and what kind of building styles could be taken based on the materials.

For these reasons, it is often the case that Japanese companies bring their blue prints from Japan without knowing the facts of the industry in developing countries, and find out that they cannot source the material, or the construction technique they were considering is not available in that country. Although the materials that can be sourced in Cambodia have increased in recent years to some degree, it is not a big change at all.


Is there a possibility that the domestic production of materials will change in the future?

It is very difficult for light industries and heavy industry to thrive in countries where the power situation is not developed like Cambodia. Although this problem is linked with the industrial structure, imports may increase in the future, but I think that it will take time before steel and other materials can be produced within Cambodia. The situation has not improved that much in the recent years.

The lack of urban planning is an issue

What are the issues you face in the building industry in Cambodia?

In a developed country, the government sets urban planning, then the rules are defined for the development designs. However, Cambodia has no urban planning rules in place, so the foreign capitals are entering the country and construction developments are moving forward without any form of planning. Currently, much of the construction industry in Cambodia is led by foreign capital such as China. As a developing country, we may have to accept the entry of foreign capital, but the landscape of the city is not consistent because we have no planning in place. This is a political problem, a problem that politicians cannot solve unless they tackle it.


Is the education in the building and construction industry substantial?

Many Cambodian staff who work at our company have studied architecture at university. However, it is quite different from the studies of architecture we get at a Japanese university, the current situation is that they do not receive an education with rich contents. In Cambodia, it is common to receive a certain degree of education and learn the rest on the job during practical experience.

I think there is a limit if they are educated only in Cambodia without knowing the developed countries. It is unavoidable that there is a limit to studying in developing countries, but I think that it is important that they collect information themselves or that foreign companies like us enter developing countries and teach those who are eager to learn.


The younger generation entering demand to ignite the market

Can you tell us about the future of this industry?

Currently, the construction rush is targeted at the wealthy people and investors, and it will be time for stagnation soon. However, after that, I believe that the younger generation will grow into consumers and create a demand. This will cause the building and construction industry to rise again. I think that the construction industry will keep changing with rises and stagnation depending on the demand of the time.

Phnom Penh is attracting attention as a place of business activities, and the market varies depending on the industry. The construction industry is growing into a hot market nationwide, with resort construction on the rise in Sihanoukville and Siem Reap, Poipet in industrial related constructions. I think it will become more popular in the next five to ten years.


What kind of role do you want to play in this industry?
Many Japanese firms considering entering Cambodia are ordering the design and blue prints to companies that have a Japanese speaking environment. However, information obtained in such environment could be narrower than other companies. We are involved not only with Japanese companies but also local companies and French companies. Having deep roots locally is our strength but we also have relationships with global industries, and it can be said that the amount of information stocked within our company is different from others.

So that we can put the strength of our company into action, we started a construction consulting service within our construction project management section. For companies with limited information, gathering accurate information is difficult because it requires considerable investigation and time. however, this is very important for conducting business in Cambodia, where you gather the information from is very important.