Architect’s Forum Calls for Shwedagon Conservation Plan

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 18 May 2015

RANGOON — Experts have called for a comprehensive government plan for the sustainable management of Shwedagon Pagoda and the surrounding area, in response to five nearby development projects that they said could threaten the structural integrity of the sacred site.

The Association of Myanmar Architects (AMA) has also released a statement claiming the pagoda was in urgent need of protection and warning that its durability would be at risk if nearby developments were not properly managed.

Speaking at the ‘Save our Shwedagon’ forum, organized by the AMA and held at the pagoda on Sunday, the organization’s vice-president Maw Lin said the pagoda’s religious and historical significance meant that the government needed to exercise caution in granting permissions for development in the area.

“Using conservation management and zoning plans, the government should make an overall study across Rangoon for which areas they should grant development approvals or not,” he said.

Sunday’s forum, attended by about 300 people, heard the opinions of nine experts across fields ranging from history to urban planning, underground water table management and environmental engineering.

Dr Nyan Myint Kyaw, a civil professor from the Rangoon Technological University who was involved in the pagoda’s restoration and maintenance works in 2009, said that even though Shwedagon had received structural strengthening in recent years, a comprehensive survey on the site’s foundation and underground water had yet to occur.

“What we can say right now is only guesswork,” he said. “No one knows exactly what would happen as we have no scientific data. That’s why we are calling for a risk assessment.”

Water expert Dr Khin Ni Ni Thein backed up Nyan Myint Kyaw’s comments, saying that while while some preliminary risk assessments had been performed, a more comprehensive risk assessment was needed to gauge the impact of the projects on the pagoda.

Other attendees of Sunday’s forum took issue with the visual impact of the five developments, spread out over a 71-acre site that near the foot of Singuttara Hill.

Hlaing Maw Oo, an architect and director from the Ministry of Construction, said that high-rise buildings near the pagoda risked “visual pollution” obscuring a monument of great cultural, historical and religious significance.

“From an urban design point of view, it’s unacceptable. The more visual pollution we have, the faster we will lose the view of the great pagoda for the next generation,” she said.

Architect Khaing Win Lat said the area around Shwedagon Pagoda should be retained as a green area with public access for cultural, educational and recreational purposes.

“The area should be a conservation zone that belongs to people,” he said.

In a written message to the forum, Thant Myint-U, chairman of the Yangon Heritage Trust, said Shwedagon must be the centrepiece of any plan for a 21st century Rangoon, together with its waterfronts and heritage architecture.

“I believe there can and should be medium and high-rise development—but in their proper place,” he wrote. “There is more than enough room for the kind of growth and modernization we all want. There is no conflict with development. On the contrary—it is unplanned growth that will ultimately hinder and make impossible the sustainable development of Yangon.”

The AMA has sent a letter to President Thein Sein, ministers and relevant ministries in the Union and divisional governments, calling for the urgent adoption of a conservation plan for the area and recommending “Shwedagon’s environs be spared and used as public spaces.”

“The most important points in the letter we sent to the president are that conservation of Shwedagon and a thorough risk assessment on the pagoda are in urgent need,” Maw Lin told the forum on Sunday. “In addition, a conservation management plan for the area is needed and Shwedagon’s surroundings should be kept as public space.”