Fighting to save the architectural heritage of Burma’s former capital

Yangon, previously known as Rangoon, has not only lost its status as the capital of Burma, but seems to be losing its architectural heritage as well.

Many heritage buildings of good architectural design in the city have been torn down. From 1900 to 2011, as much as 35 per cent of downtown Yangon was demolished, according to Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT). This equates to approximately 1,800 buildings. They were destroyed in order to pave the way for new development projects. Developers saw that there was money to be made by constructing newer and larger buildings. Aside from this, in 1962 when the military government took over, a lot of the city’s infrastructure went into disrepair.

Some heritage building still stand

There are some heritage buildings that are left standing. This includes The Secretariat, which is the Yangon’s most iconic building. This is where General Aung San was assassinated in 1947. Aside from this, there is the Young Women’s Christian Association of 1902 and the former residence of Pablo Neruda, who is a famed Chilean poet.

However there is a lot of concern regarding the future of these buildings and traditional architectural design, with many conservationists believing that the heritage of Yangon is being destroyed with little benefit in return.

After the country transitioned in 2011 to a quasi-civilian government, conservation architects may have been pleased by the efforts of regional and municipal authorities to preserve historic Yangon. However further demolitions occurred as a result of lack of co-ordinated leadership and thus the deep concern continues. This is especially the case as there are only 189 buildings that are protected by the municipal government in Yangon.

It is a real shame for this city, which is seen as a unique architectural location. Most of the architecture in Yangon dates back to the period of 1824 to 1948, when the British ruled the area. Nevertheless, conservationists aren’t going to go down without a fight. They want to follow in the footsteps of Singapore and Penang by showing the heritage of Yangon to city officials to increase its appeal.