Yangon (Rangoon) in Myanmar is the last intact city in Asia. After half a century of relative isolation, Myanmar is undergoing fast growth and large political changes and, as a consequence, its heritage buildings are now at risk of being lost due to this rapid development.

The recent investment boom in Myanmar is increasing demand for new hotels, residential apartments and office buildings, placing the country’s built heritage at risk of demolition.

One of Myanmar’s most recognised buildings is the Sofaer Building in the heart of Yangon. Featuring grand Corinthian columns and a domed tower with Italianate flourishes, it used to house the Reuters Telegraph Company.

Earlier this year, after a trip to Myanmar, Australian foreign minister Bob Carr pledged his support and expertise to help protect Myanmar’s rich architectural heritage.

Myanmar heritage building

Yangon’s many architectural showpieces form one of the largest collections of colonial-period buildings in Asia.

Australian design and consultancy firm Conrad Gargett Riddel (CGR), UniQuest and The University of Queensland (UQ) are working together with international companies to help save Myanmar’s historic colonial buildings.

CGR senior associate David Gole and UQ will lead an AusAID-funded Australia Awards Short Course on heritage conservation and adaptive reuse.

“Myanmar is at a critical moment when its heritage assets are at risk of being lost by rapid development,” Gole said.

A committee of 12 architects, urban planners and academics from Myanmar arrived in Australia on August 19 to participate in the program, which aims to highlight the conservation and restoration skills so urgently needed in their home country. Practical workshops and site visits are part of the program and will demonstrate the process of conserving and adapting buildings for new uses.

inside secretariat building

These photos are the first in many years from inside the Secretariat.

Gole, along with CGR principal and UQ adjunct professor Dr Robert Riddel and UQ CUlture and Heritage Unit director Dr Andrew Sneddon will deliver lectures on those issues.

The guests will visit 25 historic Brisbane sites, including the former Wolston Park Hospital precinct, The University of Queensland St Lucia campus, Customs House, Old Government House, St John’s Cathedral, Spring Hill Baths, All Saints Church Wickham Terrace, Brisbane City Hall, the former West’s Furniture Showroom, the National Australia Bank (308 Queen Street), the former Red Hill Skate Arena, and the Old Windmill (Wickham Park, Spring Hill).

“We see this program as an opportunity to greatly assist the Myanmar architects and hope to establish enduring relationships beyond their five week visit to Brisbane,” Gole said.

The Pegu Club

The Pegu Club was a British-only exclusive colonial club.
Mixed-blood residents were not admitted. It is a large complex made of teak built in 1882.

A photography exhibition and the launch of a new book, Yangon a City to Rescue, by authors Jacques Maudy and Jimi Cassaccia  will be showcased at the Brisbane Powerhouse from August 22 to September 15.

This book project is part of a collective effort to support the cause, aiming to draw public attention to the positive changes affecting the people of Myanmar and the absolute need to protect the environment in which they live.