Conservation architect and Conrad Gargett Principal David Gole moved house from Brisbane, Australia to Yangon, Myanmar in early 2015 as part of an AusAid program to train architects in the preservation of the city's significant colonial heritage. On his way to work at the Yangon Heritage Trust in the elegantly decaying Pansodan Street, this is what he sees....
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My walk to work takes me from my apartment in 37th Street to the Yangon Heritage Trust buildings in Pandsodan Street. It is a daily reminder of the rich cultural life of the Yangon downtown as well as the urban design successes and shortcomings of this re-emerging city.
The width of the smaller residential streets and the smart 19th century planning grid provide a perfect scale for smaller commercial shops and residents, as well as much-needed shade.
Yangon downtown has clusters of ethnic/ religious groups and businesses. My street has a particular focus on books with both book shops (like the well known Bagan Books), and the pop-up book sellers who set up their stalls daily on the narrow pavements under canopies supported by bamboo poles. Books are unpacked each morning and arranged on large flat tables and narrow shelves.
The streetscape is eclectic with a range of building dates and styles, many including late 19th century colonial era buildings. Some are in a precarious state, with tell tale red signs warning of a dangerous building.
The walk includes reminders of the residential nature of 37th Street, with the small balcony and footpath gardens (the use of decorative egg shells is particularly quirky in one!)
A small shrine on a wall is a reminder of the deeply religious nature of the residents.
The tea shops are located inside buildings but also under temporary awnings with bamboo pole props.
It is important to always look up for the small details. The building pediment on the Translation Society Building includes an open book in relief – the dark page on the left representing ignorance and the white page on the right representing knowledge.
The Translation Society building (left side) was built in the 1930s to facilitate the translation of English literature into Burmese — a function the building still performs (amazingly!). The Soefars building (now Lokonat Building) on the right is a reminder of the cosmopolitan nature of the city both past and present. In the past it was a department store which supplied exotic goods from Europe and the Middle East and today houses the Lokonat Gallery and Gecko Bar.
The final stretch of walking down Pansodan Street first past the Lokonat building is an absolute treat — the vista is breathtaking and offers a rich palette of building styles, types and textures. The scale and streetscape qualities are on a par with any of the great cities around the globe. I sometimes go in very early and really enjoy the softer morning light and absence of traffic in downtown!
After crossing Merchant Road, a glimpse back is the shocking reminder of how destructive unregulated commercial development is to the downtown heritage precinct. The scale, forms and materials are incongruous with the surrounding buildings.
The Yangon Heritage Trust offices, Pansodan Street.
David Gole is a Principal with Conrad Gargett, who are fully supportive of David’s additional AusAid funded role providing heritage advice and heritage architectural support to the Yangon Heritage Trust for heritage projects in Myanmar.