Sherpa Hossainy's Blog

A bid to save Yangon’s historic architectures

Posted in Myanmar, Real estate and property, Renewable energy, Tourism, Yangon by Sherpa Hossainy on July 10, 2013

Published in Myanmar Business Today (Vol 1, Issue 19) on June 13, 2013

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Yangon Heritage Trust, a local non government organisation, has joined hands with Netherlands-based electronics giant Philips to protect Yangon’s old architectures and cultural heritage sites.

The partnership aims to help conserve and beautify Yangon’s many cultural heritage sites. It will support research and curation of historical sites and installation of blue plaques, which will provide relevant information and detailed history of key sites.

The partnership was announced on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on East Asia on June 5 in Nay Pyi Taw.

YHT Philips

Dr Thant Myint-U (R), founder and chairman of the Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT), and Harjit Gill, chief executive officer of Philips ASEAN and Pacific, display a blue plaque. Some 200 blue plaques detailing the history of Yangon’s heritage sites will be installed this year. Sherpa Hossainy

Philips contributed $75,000 for the Yangon blue plaques initiative to highlight cultural heritage sites throughout Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial and cultural hub. A total of 200 blue plaques will be installed to share the historical relevance and background of the heritage sites across the city. Most of the plaques will be installed by this year.

“We are in a time of change, and many things will change dramatically. But it is important to remind people and the government that we have to protect what is beautiful in our city,” said Dr Thant Myint-U, founder and chairman of the Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT), founded a year ago targeting to preserve Yangon’s heritage.

YHT is currently working with the government to list heritage buildings in Yangon and take measures to protect them. “We are receiving tremendous support and enthusiasm from the government. We had meetings with top ministers at the national level and also with Yangon’s Mayor – they all assured us of their support,” Dr Thant told Myanmar Business Today. Government and public support, and collaboration with private entities are essential if YHT has to succeed, he added.

“Old Yangon has an area that is only 10 percent of the new city and we only want to preserve that part. There’s enough space for modernisation and to build shopping malls and business centres in other parts of the city. We can’t let Shwedagon Pagoda get covered by skyscrapers,” Dr Thant said.

“If we can protect the views of the Shwedagon and other heritage sites, Yangon has the potential to become the most beautiful city in Asia. Yangon is the only place in Asia where you have 19th and 20th century landscape left. They are priceless assets – if we can protect them, they will become more valuable than natural gas, oil or jade.”

Tourism is going to boom in Myanmar and Yangon’s downtown area can be presented as a package for tourists if the cultural sites can be saved, Dr Thant said. “Downtown Yangon is where modern Myanmar came to be, where our greatest writers, politicians and thinkers were born. Within only one square mile you can see tremendous diversity – there’s Buddhist, Hindu and Chinese temples, there’s mosques and a synagogue. You don’t see that everywhere.”

“In five to 10 years we will probably become a developing country, and then in 20 years a middle-income country. If we have a modern and beautiful city, we would be able to generate and attract talent, and be able to compete with other major cities in the region such as Delhi, Chennai and Shanghai,” he added.

Dr Thant, also a historian and author, said this initiative is not only about buildings, but also about people living in downtown, especially poor people living there. “They should understand that saving our heritage will bring in more investments and create jobs for them.”

A British colonial era building in Yangon. WMC

A British colonial era building in Yangon. WMC

However, he said there’s no immediate plan to expand YHT’s work in other major regions in Myanmar such as Mandalay and Rakhine state. “Currently we only want to focus on Yangon. We don’t have enough manpower and finance to expand to other regions,” he told Myanmar Business Today.

“We are pleased that Philips is supporting us in our initiative. These plaques will provide information and help identify historic buildings. Sometimes people don’t understand the history behind those buildings – we can achieve that through the plaques.

“We must remember, conserve and celebrate our heritage. The blue plaque system will play a big role in doing just that, by marking buildings and other places of historical, cultural, and religious importance, not only for tourists but for the Myanmar people themselves. It will be linked to other efforts to revitalise downtown Yangon and set the stage for sustainable growth. Our partnership with Philips is part of realising our mission to safeguard and promote Yangon’s priceless heritage as part of this great city’s future.”

Philips recently conducted a lighting audit of heritage zones in collaboration with both YHT and the Mayor’s office. Philips said in a statement that it aims to ensure lighting plays an important role in the Yangon Master Plan, so that energy efficient LED lighting technology can help further conservation, beautification, and sustainability.

“We want to help Myanmar grow in a sustainable way. We want the old architectures to last in a beautiful way amid all the development process,” said Harjit Gill, chief executive officer of Philips ASEAN and Pacific.

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