Myanmar Architect Who Designed Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s Mother’s Mausoleum Dies

By The Irrawaddy 31 July 2021

Renowned Myanmar architect U Bo Gyi, who designed the mausoleum for Daw Khin Kyi, the wife of independence hero General Aung San and the mother of detained State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, passed away of old age at 89 in Yangon on July 27. 

U Bo Gyi was pressured by the previous military regime to resign as a civil servant for designing the mausoleum. He joined the monkhood some 19 years ago and died as a monk. 

As an assistant of Oswald Negla, a lecturer in architecture at Yangon University (then Rangoon University), he was involved in the construction of the university’s Recreation Center while still an architecture student at the university in  1959. He later won first prize in Myanmar’s first architectural competition, a contest to design the clinic of the Burmah Oil Company (BOC) in Yangon’s Thanlyin.  

He was one of the founders of the Architects Incorporated Firm (AI), which became a leading architecture company in Myanmar. The AI was not just a thriving business, but a place for artists, sculptors, writers, musicians and entertainers to rendezvous and debate modern art, until military dictator General Ne Win seized power in 1962.

All businesses were nationalized at that time, and the AI was not spared. U Bo Gyi found himself an employee of the junta’s Housing and Public Works Ministry. 

When Myanmar’s first female ambassador, Daw Khin Kyi, passed away in December 1988, U Bo Gyi was approached by Myo Myint Nyein from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and his brother Sonny Nyein about designing the mausoleum for Daw Khin Kyi.

The NLD had initially planned to assign the project to seasoned architect and party member U Kyaw Min, who designed the mausoleum of Thakhin Kodaw Hmaing, a poet laureate and the father of nationalist movements in Myanmar. But U Kyaw Min, a US-educated architect who was U Bo Gyi’s teacher at university, was on a trip at the time. 

U Bo Gyi was asked to design the mausoleum for Daw Khin Kyi with the approval of her daughter Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and another member of the NLD leadership, U Kyi Maung. 

Daw Khin Kyi used to sit on a chair under the portico of the family residence facing Inya Lake in Yangon, counting prayer beads and babysitting her two grandsons, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told U Bo Gyi, asking him to model the mausoleum after the portico. 

Daw Khin Kyi’s mausoleum / The Irrawaddy

The Housing Department planned to punish U Bo Gyi for his involvement in the project, but he was spared after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi intervened and made a phone call to Major General Myo Nyunt, the head of the Myanmar military’s Yangon Command.  

The mausoleum was open roofed with a portico. Two curved walls shield the tomb, signifying a pair of hands covering the light Daw Khin Kyi shed on the country, and the sacrifices she made as a wife and mother. 

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi inside her mother’s mausoleum during a visit. / The Irrawaddy

U Bo Gyi designed and personally built the mausoleum for Daw Khin Kyi, which stands alongside those of Queen Supayalat, the chief consort of Myanmar’s last monarch King Thibaw; Thakhin Kodaw Hmaing; and United Nations Secretary-General U Thant. 

One year after he volunteered his services for the mausoleum project, circumstances forced him to retire from the job he had done for the previous 26 years, just three years before he was eligible for a pension. But he could no longer cope with the pressures of the workplace, as the regime always tried to find fault with him. 

In their books, NLD leaders Hanthawaddy U Win Tin, Thura U Tin Oo and U Win Htein failed to credit U Bo Gyi as the architect of Daw Khin Kyi’s mausoleum. People mistakenly credited U Kyaw Min, because U Bo Gyi worked at U Kyaw Min’s office on Sule Pagoda Road at the time of the project and put the name of his former teacher before his own on his design sheets. 

U Bo Gyi as a Buddhist monk (far left) with Myanmar modern artist Kim Maung Yin (center). / Sonny Nyein

After resigning as a government employee, he worked for a number of private architecture companies. He joined the monkhood in 2003, taking the monastic name U Pandita. 

“I am most satisfied with Daw Khin Kyi’s mausoleum, of all the architectural projects done in my life. The mausoleum was built by the Garrison Engineers of Myanmar [the engineers of the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military],” the monk said. 

U Bo Gyi also designed Independence Monument in Yangon, the City Hall and Square in Pyin Oo Lwin, the People’s Department Store in Yangon’s Pansodan (now Ruby Mart), and many government-run factories, public hospitals and private buildings. 

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