Review—Yangon: a City to Rescue

General Hospital. (Photo: Jacques Maudy / Jimi Cassaccia)

Two photographers have embarked on a Burmese book project documenting the crumbling British colonial-era architecture for which Rangoon is rightfully renowned.

Moroccan-born Australian Jacques Maudy and Italian Jimi Cassaccia manage to depict a time-warp metropolis through their striking pictures while also sending a serious historical preservation message.

The body of work, taken on behalf of the Rangoon Heritage Trust, founded by prominent Burmese historian Thant Myint U, offers quality imagery and fine detail in saturated color with a special feel for the monsoonal mood of the former capital.

The work is part of a collective effort by historians to enact legislation to protect this valuable aspect of the city’s culture for generations to come.

The trust received a significant boost when Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr visited Rangoon in June and pledged his government’s support and expertise to help protect the nation’s rich architectural heritage.

There is deep concern that with the recent easing of economic sanctions, a drive for development may pose a serious threat to the significant yet fast-decaying examples of 18th century design. Many buildings are in need of serious restoration after years of idle neglect.

Already, as a direct result of the trust’s work, the government has reportedly suspended 20 building permits until the subject of conservation can be clarified.

Maudy and Cassaccia have made the best possible use of Rangoon’s dank and overcast climate to soften shadows and bring out excellent details of the heritage buildings in arresting color. In addition, there are many fine examples of portraiture and Rangoon street scenes.

A featured part of the collection is the exclusive Pegu Club of colonial times. Built in the late 1880s of top quality teak, and although now in serious disrepair, it has withstood the test of time remarkably well. The club was in its heyday both elitist and racist, with even the highest ranking Burmese nationals banned from admittance.

A number of exterior and interior photos highlight the iconic Rangoon Secretariat building. This is where Aung San, Burma’s independence hero and father of current democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, was murdered by a political rival in 1947.

Since the time of his assassination the building has been closed to outsiders, so these images give a rare glimpse into a significant period of Burmese history.

The book project is approaching the point of publication and the photographers are currently seeking donors. See JJMC Photo for more information.

18 Responses to Review—Yangon: a City to Rescue

  1. Captions to the pictures telling where they are, I am totally embarrassed that I have not seen some of them before.
    Nobody is ever going building magnificent building like these anymore.
    A reminder of a time when of a ‘neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!’

  2. These images, wonderful though they are, are not ‘as would be seen by the human eye’. They appear to be HDR (High Dynamic Range) images which are usually created by combining several images in specialist software.

    Nevertheless they do publicise architecture which should be preserved rather than being torn down and replaced. The buildings of Yangon are unique in SE Asia and their conservation should not be overlooked in the rush to ‘modernise’.

  3. Dear Sai Lang Kham,
    You are right. We have used a lot of photo processing on purpose. We wanted these images to be as dramatic as possible to move the viewers into action.
    see them all here

  4. Yangon or Rangoon. It does not matter how Than Shwe calls it. One thing we can see today is Yangon has been long neglected. Yangon still is the center of Burmese economy. Tourists from oversea will come to Yangon, not Than Shwe’s jungle capital. Yangon was not the capital of the West but Burma. Whoever notice this sad scene will understand how useless was Burmese military dictatorship, especially Than Shwe’s incompetent rule.

  5. So some Burmese do want to preserve the British colonial legacy (at least the things they like). Chinese shopping malls are not exactly what people want? I’m just saying!

  6. I was told the Yangon Heriatge Trust actually has not to do with these photographers. Good to check with them first.

    • We have been invited to Yangon by Sonny Thein, board member of the Yangon Heritage Trust to document the heritage buildings of the city. These photos have been the object of an exhibition at the first international Conference of the YHT in Yangon Strand Hotel on the 1st of June 2012

  7. Oh my Beloved Motherland, Burma. Oh my Beloved Birthplace, Rangoon. You are Magnificent, Unique and Wonderful. I appeal to the people of Burma, the government of Burma, UN and World Heritage agencies (whatever they are called), Cultural Attachés at Foreign Embassies in Burma, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and the like of them to please help save these and MANY other buildings, structures, pagodas, temples, churches, mosques and synagouges in Rangoon and ALL over Burma. Their historical and national heritage value is IMMEASUREABLE. Pleeeease help……..!!!! GOD will bless you if you help preserve them. If you don’t the world will cry forever….no amount of money, billions and trillions of dollars would ever be able to bring them back.

  8. Ah the good old colonial days, which had style, character, rule, democracy, a sense of permenance, are missed, but looks like will be a big money spinner once they realise that tourists will, from every nation, flock to these great relics of the past.

  9. I do not think Kyet Pye or Nay Pi Taw will ever be like Rangoon. Even though Than Shwe sees Rangoon as his enemy, Rangoon will survive without him. More than five million lives were abandoned and left in ruins by Than Shwe and he fled into the jungle, Nay Pi Taw. Rangoon still is beautiful in our eyes.

  10. I don’t think these buildings only represent colonial time. They all are from different time zone of historical importance. I understand that Rangoon City Hall, Rangoon Railway Station & Dagon 1 (Myoma) were designed by Burmese Architect, Art School (Chin Chong Palace) by Chinese Merchant. Most may be colonial British architecture, but it is our duty to preserve these buildings and tell the next generation about the good and the bad. A lesson to learn from it.
    Ne Win demolished the governor house which interior was decorated with all types of Burmese timber as I was told by my father. What do have now? An old picture postcard and ugly building in that spot.

  11. Thank you all of you for your comments and your interest for the architecture of yangon. We are editing a book with these photos and more. If you want to contribute to the printing , please follow this link

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