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    Australian architects help save Myanmar’s built heritage

    Geraldine Chua

    The Sofaer Building in the heart of Yangon, Myanmar, was one of the city’s most recognised buildings. Formerly home to leading legal and financial firms, as well as the Reuters Telegraph Company, it featured grand Corinthian columns and a domed tower with Italianate flourishes.

    However, the same building today stands a forlorn relic, a ghost of what once was.

    After half a century of relative isolation, Myanmar is on the cusp of rapid growth and change. As a nascent investment boom begins to drive demand for new hotels, apartments and office buildings, the built heritage of the country is at risk of dereliction or demolishment.

    Joining a number of international efforts, Australian design and consultancy firm Conrad Gargett Riddel (CGR), UniQuest and The University of Queensland (UQ) are working together to help save Myanmar’s historic colonial buildings.

    “Myanmar is at a critical moment when its heritage assets are at risk of being lost by rapid development,” says David Gole, Senior Associate (Heritage) at CGR, which together with UQ, will lead an AusAID funded Australia Awards Short Course on heritage conservation and adaptive reuse.

    Pegu Club, Yangon

    Twelve Myanmar architects, planners and academics will arrive in Australia on 19 August to participate in this program, which aims to provide the participants with the conservation and adaptive reuse skills urgently needed in their country.

    Yangon General Hospital

    David Gole, along with Dr Robert Riddel (Principal, CGR and UQ Adjunct Professor) and Dr Andrew Sneddon (Director, UQ Culture and Heritage Unit) will deliver lectures, practical workshops and site visits to demonstrate the process of conserving and adapting buildings for new uses.

    Over 25 historic Brisbane sites will be visited, including the former Wolston Park Hospital precinct, The University of Queensland St Lucia campus, Customs House, Old Government House, St John’s Cathedral, Spring Hill Baths, All Saints Church Wickham Terrace, Brisbane City Hall, the former West’s Furniture Showroom, the National Australia Bank (308 Queen Street), the former Red Hill Skate Arena and the Old Windmill (Wickham Park, Spring Hill).

    The program will also see participants receive ongoing support in their work by the UQ/CGR team in Yangon.

    “We see this program as an opportunity to greatly assist the Myanmar architects and hope to establish enduring relationships beyond their five week visit to Brisbane,” says Gole.

    Yangon Division Office

    Earlier this year, foreign minister Bob Carr pledged Australia’s support and expertise to help protect the Myanmar’s rich architectural heritage. The Australia Awards are international scholarships, fellowships and short courses funded by the Australian Government which aim to develop skills and knowledge, as well as build enduring links between Australia and the broader international community.

    Images by Jacques Maudy and Jimi Casaccia (jjmcphoto.com). The photographs will be showcased in an exhibition and book launch of ‘Yangon a City to Rescue’ at the Brisbane Powerhouse from 22 August to 15 September.

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