Architects Decry New Shwe Bank Building in Rangoon Heritage Core

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 21 January 2016

RANGOON — The architect of a newly completed building that critics say detracts from downtown Rangoon’s surrounding colonial-era architecture says the current design of the structure is far from what he had envisioned in the original blueprint.

Located at the corner of Merchant and Pansodan streets, the more than six-story Shwe Rural and Urban Development Bank building was redeveloped by Shwe Than Lwin company, a conglomerate founded by business tycoon Kyaw Win, who also owns SkyNet broadcasting service, among multiple other business interests.

The metallic brown façade of the new bank building has been deemed an eyesore by the Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT), which is seeking to have its exterior altered. The architectural conservation group argues that the design is a poor fit for the area, considered Rangoon’s heritage core and one of the last nearly unbroken streetscapes of colonial-era architecture in Asia.

Aung Myint, the architect hired for the building design, insisted that the current incarnation of the building was “50 percent contrary” to the blueprint he handed over to developers.

“The appearance of the building is quite different from what I had envisioned,” he told The Irrawaddy last week.

He explained that he had revised his design nearly 10 times, including a scaling back from 20 stories to eight. The last time he worked on what he thought would be the final version was eight years ago, he said, with that blueprint including elements of traditional and classical design with the surrounding heritage architecture in mind.

“I suggested that they use the design, given the proximity of the heritage buildings around it. But they didn’t follow it,” Aung Myint said.

The 66-year-old architect, who was trained as an urban planner, said the developer did not contact him during the construction period apart from in the early 2000s, when the project was just getting underway.

“I wasn’t aware that they used [metallic brown] claddings for the façade. They should have told me but they didn’t. It seems that they made changes with their in-house engineers,” he added.

The building’s jarring façade has also attracted the ire of other architects.

Sun Oo, the chairman of the Association of Myanmar Architects, told The Irrawaddy that he “seriously condemned” the design of the building.

“It seems like a UFO in the middle of a village road,” he said. “It really causes visual pollution in a heritage core area. I request a fix.”

Aung Myint said he supported YHT’s call for changes to the exterior of the building.

“I really want to fix it, if they agreed to do so,” he said.

Shwe Than Lwin was not available for comment this week.