Colonial Buildings in Yangon - A Walking Tour
Before we headed to Burma I read a New York Times piece that mentioned the book 30 Heritage Buildings in Yangon: Inside the City that Captured Time. It sounded interesting and when we arrived in Yangon we sought it out immediately. Rather like Calcutta, Rangoon (or Yangon as it is today) was a center for colonial architecture and because there has been so little modern development, a large number of heritage buildings (many in various stages of decay) remain.
Part of what makes the book so interesting is that it is less a tourist guide than a serious preservation/urban planning manifesto. While the architecture and history of each building is described, there is also a discussion of future public usage including proposed or potential renovations and refurbishments. After all, not every heritage building can become a hotel and it's important to keep these building in the public sphere. However with the relocation of the capital, it's clearly an enormous practical and fiscal challenge to preserve this ambivalent colonial heritage.
We spent hours wandering around the town center following the map in the book. It was fascinating, an exploration of colonial history, decay and benign neglect. Schools, banks, government offices, the old printing office, the revenue service, department stores, railway stations, clubs and hospitals, they are all still there. We could have spent days tracking places down from the book.
Several colonial structures have been fully resorted including the Sarkie brother's Strand Hotel which I first heard of in the 1980s when backpackers could dine in decaying splendor for nothing. The Governor's Residence (now run by Orient Express Hotels) is also beautifully restored and nice to visit for an overpriced lunch.
The Secretariat (above and below) is an enormous building and was the administrative heart of British Colonial power. Built between the late 1880's and 1905 it is highly significant in the national history of Burma as Aung San and six cabinet ministers were assassinated here in 1947.
This sensitive history means the site may be more likely to be developed as a museum or National Archive than as a private enterprise but the sheer scale of the building proves a significant challenge.This is the Salvation Army building, below. There are a number of churches throughout the downtown area.
This was the government printing office during the colonial period. We hoped to look at the interior courtyard but were turned away as this remains a government building.
I loved the post and telegraph building which is so reminiscent of the grandeur and decoration of British colonial architecture in India.
Heritage buildings include private apartments and shops as you can see below.When viewing theses structures from the street you often need to cross the road and to look up to see the architecture.
As you can see there are a wide variety of architecture styles...
but these colonial buildings were clearly designed to convey both power and permanence.
As you can see many of the buildings are desperately in need of repair, see below.
Although some are still in use a government offices...
Here the monumental classical facade is decorated with an art deco detail.
This gives you some idea of the cityscape on a quiet Sunday.
The city hall below is an extraordinary confection, a blend of British colonial grandeur capped with fanciful imaginings and Burmese flourishes on the roofline. The result is strangely discordant, solid and grandiose beneath, with a lightness and decorative appeal above.
You can see interesting Eastern, or perhaps Moorish influences in the architecture of the building below.
We loved walking around, looking up and exploring the architectural heritage of British Burma. We could have spent much more time exploring. I highly recommend the book and taking the time to walk around and discover the history of these buildings.
For additional Burma posts click here.
For additional Burma posts click here.