Architects Group Plans Forum to Air Shwedagon Concerns

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 13 May 2015

RANGOON — A forum to discuss the preservation of Shwedagon Pagoda will be held on the weekend, in response to concerns that nearby construction projects will affect the structural integrity of the sacred site.

Maw Lin, one of the organizers and the vice president of the Association of Myanmar Architects (AMA), said that the forum would feature architects, geologists, civil engineers, and water and soil experts.

“The aim of the meeting will be to generate ideas to prolong the existence of the pagoda, and to present suggestions to the government about what kind of development projects should be allowed in its vicinity,” he told The Irrawaddy.

In January the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) halted work on five construction projects over 71 acres in the vicinity of Shwedagon Pagoda, pending a review from the Myanmar Engineers Society and the municipal High-Rise Inspection Committee. The four-week suspension was extended on Mar. 7 and appears to remain in force.

At 22 acres, Dagon City 1 is the second largest of the five developments. The mixed-use residential and commercial project, a 70-30 joint venture between the international Marga Landmark syndicate and local partner Thu Kha Yadanar, has been a particular target for community concern.

Around 10,000 people have joined a “Saving Shwedagon Pagoda Campaign” Facebook page since it was created on Monday. Moderators of the page, who have been promoting the forum, have also made calls for a petition campaign to begin next month.

Though there has been no definitive, expert opinion made public which argues that any of the five developments would impact the pagoda or its surroundings, many of the page’s subscribers have claimed that the excavations planned for Dagon City 1 pose a risk to Shwedagon.

“We don’t care if Marga invests in 100-storey buildings far away from Shwedagon, and we have no intention of ruining Marga’s interests,” one user wrote. “We are just protecting Shwedagon as a national cause from something bad happening.”

A statement from Marga Landmark on May 9 said that the MIC had appointed a taskforce to review the project’s master plan, approved by the MIC in Mar. 2014, based on recommendations from the Engineering Society. Marga said the review is understood to be focused on water drainage and road systems.

According to documents provided to The Irrawaddy, the MIC assigned responsibility for the review to the Yangon City Development Committee, and the taskforce’s terms of reference include a study of whether the developments could affect the foundation of Singuttara Hill, where Shwedagon and two other pagodas are situated. Dagon City 2, a project solely developed by Thu Kha Yadanar, agreed in February to set back two blocks which encroached upon Alan Pya Pagoda (also known as Signal Pagoda).

Final approval of the five developments will rest with the Myanmar Investment Commission.

Comment on Sunday’s forum was sought from Marga Landmark. The Irrawaddy did not receive a response before publication time. In its May 9 statement, Marga said that it understood from the MIC chairman that the review was being conducted with a view to Dagon City 1 continuing.

“Marga Landmark [has] reassured the authorities that Dagon City One will be carried out with the utmost care and due diligence without affecting the foundations of Singuttra Hill and the underground water,” the statement read.

Marga’s assurances have not placated those opposed to the five developments. Sun Oo, the president of the AMA who will moderate Sunday’s forum, told The Irrawaddy that an open letter calling for the preservation of the country’s most prominent religious monument will be sent to President Thein Sein.

“We will let him know that the pagoda is now under threat, and suggest that…any projects near it should be considered after a thorough consultation with experts,” he said.