An Architect Abroad: A story from Yangon, Myanmar

An Architect Abroad:  A story from Yangon, Myanmar
Tamarind Taylor, Architectural Graduate, Conrad Gargett

Earlier this year the Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT) received a grant to invite a person experienced in the production of 3D architectural images and visualisation to lead a group of five eager young architectural students and graduates. I was most fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to work in, and explore Yangon for two and a half weeks.

The training focussed around the production of images of The Myanmar Motion Picture Museum, which is presently undergoing refurbishment and restoration with the assistance of the YHT. Given the short period of time, some translation issues and having no prior experience in any of the software programs, the women (as it was an all female crew) produced outstanding images.

It is intended that this training will empower these women; arguably it has already started with confidence building, as their colleagues were most impressed when their work when presented. The skills they now have give them the ability to produce images as a vital element in the advocacy work of the YHT.

While work was a significant part of my stay, I got to enjoy the many unique aspects of Yangon. It is a culturally rich city where every block reveals something new.

The city is laid out on a grid with long and sometimes narrow streets running north south. A strategy to capture cooling breezes from the river, although the breezes did little to alleviate the equatorial heat and humidity. The streets are divided into Upper, Mid, Lower and Lowest blocks, with the Sule pagoda as the critical landmark in the centre of the city. Strolling from Upper 32nd, past the golden stupa, and through Downtown, passing late 19th and early 20th century colonial buildings and monuments (albeit a shadow of their former selves, but seem to be engaging with architectural trends for green walls and roofs unintentionally), was part of my daily commute.

The streets are wonderfully themed by different business and activities all of which take place in the streets. Booksellers, travel agents, repairs for every manner of goods, even typists on typewriters transcribing for their customers. The blocks are patrolled by packs of stray dogs. Dogs of the most docile kind, they lounge beside doors, under cars, between piles of books – a delightful subject for my Instagram. The markets occur in various parts of downtown at differing times. A colourful array of fresh produce lines the streets and roads, some familiar, others less so. Meats are prepared on less than OH&S approved butchers blocks, and fish are piled high in shallow bamboo trays or on a newspaper on the road. The city however is not without its perils, crossing the roads is an exhilarating experience to say the least, and I often found myself hop scotching between open sewers and failing concrete covers, and always dodging the pigeons that congregate on corners and overhead powerlines waiting for a feed.

Yangon boasts one of the world’s most spectacular and distinct cityscapes with a wide variety of architectural styles and historical periods. This heritage is lived in and used by a diverse range of evolving and dynamic communities. Today this significant cultural and built heritage is at risk of being lost as a new wave of development takes its toll.

A little bit of information on the Yangon Heritage Trust.

Yangon Heritage Trust is an independent centre of excellence working to promote and integrate Yangon’s unique urban heritage into a 21st century vision of Yangon as one of Asia’s most liveable cities. Part of the Yangon Heritage Trust’s mission is to advocate for conservation and communicate ideas about the protection of Yangon’s heritage to government, business and civil society.

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