The Irrawaddy

Heritage Building Demolished to Make Way for US$500-Million High-Rise

The Mayor’s Residence was demolished in February by Zaykabar Company to make way for a high-rise project. The picture was likely taken in the early 2000s.

YANGON — A British colonial-era building that appears in the Yangon City Heritage List has been torn down by a developer to make way for a construction project in Yangon’s Bahan Township.

The building, named The Mayor’s Residence, in the 13-acre compound of the now-defunct Myayeik Nyo Hotel was demolished in February by Zaykabar Company, which is developing a US$500m project on the site comprising 12 buildings with heights ranging from 382 to 412 feet.

The project on military-owned land has been suspended until the Yangon government approves its proposed safety measures for a 92-year-old reservoir nearby.

Company chairman U Khin Shwe told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the old building needed to be demolished to pave way for the project.

“It no longer exists,” said the tycoon.

As the name suggests, the Mayor’s Residence was once home to Yangon’s mayors. The last resident was U Aung Thein Lin in the early 2000s.

The city municipal body, the Yangon City Development Committee, started a survey in 1996 to list buildings with heritage value across the city; as of 2001 it comprised 188 structures—mostly religious and British colonial-era buildings. The criteria for their selection was to be architecturally significant; more than 50 years old; and not under private ownership.

The demolished residence was on the list along with the Mayor’s Guest House, another British colonial-era Heritage-listed building in the same compound.

The Mayor’s Guest House is seen in a picture likely taken in the early 2000s.

According to Myayeik Nyo Project director U Tun Win Han, the Guest House remains intact, but the residence was destroyed during the site-clearing process.

“We are now using it as an office,” he told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.

Yangon possesses many historical buildings constructed during its long, magnificent history. The city has the largest collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century colonial architecture in Southeast Asia.

According to the Yangon Heritage Trust, an NGO advocating for heritage protection, the project area was known as Mount Pleasant during the British colonial days. Many mansions belonging to high officials, including the Mayor’s Residence and the Mayor’s Guest House and the residence of the manager of Chartered Bank, were located there.

The YHT estimates that both listed buildings are believed to have been built before 1920, based on their designs.

Screenshot of YCDC’s Yangon City Heritage List.

Both U Khin Shwe and U Tun Win Han insisted that the residence was no longer a Heritage building as it had been through several heavy renovations.

“The roof and floor were replaced in the early 2000s. It was heavily damaged during Cyclone Nargis in 2008. So we renovated the entire building. That’s why it is no longer a Heritage building,” U Khin Shwe said.

Yangon Heritage Trust said the demolition of the Heritage-listed Mayor’s Residence was a “total mistake.”

“It is on the publicly announced list. But when it comes to Heritage buildings, we haven’t got any strict and precise process to ban tearing them down,” said YHT director Daw Moe Moe Lwin.

Myanmar has a Heritage Building Protection Law, which was enacted in 2015. The law dictates that any building more than 100 years old is qualified to become a Heritage building.

But the law can be applied to the buildings listed by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture. So it’s unclear whether the demolition of the Heritage building listed by the YCDC is against the law.

The YCDC was not immediately available for comment on Thursday.

Daw Moe Moe Lwin of YHT rejected Zaykabar’s excuse.

“You can’t simply tear down a Heritage building because it was renovated. It doesn’t reduce the value!” she said.