Japanese Experts Aid Fight to Save At-Risk Wooden Buildings in Burma


The 180-year-old Bagaya Monastery in Mandalay Division is currently being surveyed by Japanese and Burmese experts. (Photo: Teza Hlaing / The Irrawaddy)

MANDALAY — Japanese experts are training Burmese archeology officials in using high-tech techniques to maintain the country’s many aging wooden buildings, officials said.

A group from both countries is currently surveying the Bagaya Monastery, a structure at Ava, Mandalay Division, that was built from teak in 1834 and is thought to be one of Burma’s oldest surviving wooden structures. It is hoped skills passed on by Japanese experts will help Burma to preserve many similar buildings that are at risk from the elements and termites.

The work is part of a three-year Japanese assistance project with Burma’s Ministry of Culture. Twelve Burmese engineers and architects are being trained by experts from the National Research Institute for Culture Properties in Tokyo and the Japanese Association for Conservation of Architectural Monuments, with the collaboration of Burma’s Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library.

Katsura Sato, an architect from the Tokyo-based institute, said the survey this month was the second phase of work on the Bagaya Monastery, and involved collecting data on decaying teak wood pillars. The first phase involved collecting data on the main structure and wooden decorations, and was finished in May.

“Our mission is to train Burmese architects and engineers in data collection, how to

maintain the building without harming the original structure and how to prevent weathering and damage from insects, not only to this building but many other ancient wooden structures across the country,” she explained.

Lwin Mar Oo, assistant director of Burma’s Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library, said the group had learned advanced techniques from the Japanese experts.

“We’ve been working in traditional ways to maintain the ancient buildings for many years,” she said. “The ancient structures are not a substitutable heritage. We now can learn the technology and how to use chemicals to prolong conservation, which the Japanese have used to maintain their own century-old wooden structures.”

Built during the reign of King Bagyidaw in the former Burmese capital of Ava (or Inwa), the monastery, which stands atop 267 teak wood pillars, is now 180 years old. The Japanese experts estimate that one third of the Bagaya Monastery is badly damaged.

“One-third of the pillars are decaying due to termites and weather. There are many hollow pillars and some are out of position. Only a quarter of the floor outside of the main building is in good shape,” said Kimura Kazuo, a senior conservation architect and head of the planning division at the Japanese Association for Conservation of Architectural Monuments.

He said that while the building would remain standing for some years, the Burmese government would have to conduct major restoration work.

Also important to the conservation of the Bagaya Monastery is to prevent exposure to the rain, which damages the wood, he said.

“The road is higher than the base of the monastery. All the water flows under the monastery and affects the wooden pillars. Too much exposure to water is the main cause that allows termites and other insect to destroy the wood,” he said.

“If we can’t prevent this, the restoration work will be in vain.”

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