Our interview with the Myanmar Times came out a few days ago: On a research assignment in 2013, Ben Bansal, a writer and graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, arrived in Myanmar for the first time. “It was unlike any place I had been before, yet somehow familiar at the same time,” he wrote by email recently.
Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise building (1908)
Fascinated by Yangon’s colonial buildings and understated modern architecture, he decided to start collecting material for an architectural guide, enlisting the help of friends and colleagues Manuel Oka, an architect and photographer, and Elliott Fox, an NGO worker.
The goal for the book is to offer readers context for Yangon’s built environment, crucial for understanding history in places where “the past is often shrouded in mystery”, Bansal said. The guide will come out in early 2015 through DOM Publishers, which specialises in books by architects and has published 50 other city guides.
Bansal, Oka and Fox corresponded with The Myanmar Times about their research and favourite Yangon places.
What was your first experience of the city?
Manuel Oka: It was the pictures of Yangon that Ben sent to me during his trip that really triggered the inception of this project and gave me the idea to visit Myanmar myself later that year.
Elliott Fox: I checked in at the YMCA, and the next morning had naan and tea on Thein Phyu Road at this perfect little place with a massive tandoor, beneath one of those big, colonial-era canopies. It sat right across from the Secretariat. They since tore the canopy down and that place is now gone, sadly.
What gap did you see in the literature on Yangon architecture?
MO:There is some information available, primarily on Yangon’s heritage architecture. The Association of Myanmar Architects’ 30 Heritage Buildings, written and researched by Sarah Rooney, is probably the most accessible and useful guide to the city’s colonial heritage architecture. It’s widely available in Yangon. Old Rangoon by Noel F Singer really brings colonial Rangoon back to life and has plenty of old photos and illustrations.
Ben Bansal: There is no pure architectural guide out there per se, especially one that covers a little more than just the “superstar” buildings found mainly in Kyauktada township. There is also precious little material available covering the post-independence period. And while that may not be on everyone’s mind when coming to Yangon, these buildings are an indispensable part of the city’s history.
Read the rest of the interview here