As Myanmar forges ahead with change, concerns abound over the fate of its British colonial heritage.
Myanmar’s Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon) is a city that is undergoing rapid transformation and change. In this city of six million people, the fate of the country’s colonial buildings are a real concern, with many having already been demolished to make way for newer structures. Others have been renovated but many remain in a poor state of health. One such iconic colonial structure, at 233-235 Pansodan Street, was declared dangerous by the city’s developers and workers were sent to tear it down. However, the building, which served as a hostel for famous Burmese politicians, writers and artists during the colonial era, was subject to a last-minute reprieve after a successful campaign by the Rangoon Heritage Trust carried by the local media, prompted government officials to postpone their original order.
Only around 40 historic colonial building in downtown Rangoon remain, some are over 100 years old, and many have been declared restricted buildings after falling into serious disrepair. Activists worry that colonial buildings in the city center will be torn down to make space for hotels catering for Burma’s blossoming tourism industry. The local authorities have already painted the century-old Rangoon City Hall, which now looks rejuvenated, with other nearby examples, such as the Immigration Office, covered with plastic and bamboo poles in preparation for renovation. The Trust group has asked the government not to auction the 101-year-old Rangoon High Court and Police Commissioner Office to a consortium of local and Chinese businessmen who plan to turn the buildings into a restaurant and museum. The British colonial-era heritage of Yangon is a feature of the city which traditionalists and conservationists are keen to maintain but they face a battle to convince the majority of their countrymen, who don’t necessarily put great value in antiquity and given the choice of a restored older building against a modern development, will choose the latter. It’s an on-going tug-of-war being played out in many cities across Asia.