Organization Name: Yangon Heritage Trust
Does modernization mean destroying a culture’s traditional structures? That is the question people in Myanmar have been discussing recently. As a result of an isolated history and the past combination of socialism and military rule, Myanmar did not develop and economically progress along with some of the other countries in its region.
As a result of the societal and political structure (which is now changing), Myanmar cities were left with architecture from the colonial period that seem out-dated to those who want to create a modern Myanmar. However, to many of the people of Myanmar (who also want modernization) this colonial architecture is traditional and represents their culture, not an oppressive history that outsiders may think it does. Although this architecture, particularly in the old capital of Yangon, is from the period of British rule it has become an integral part of the landscape and culture of Myanmar. NPR did a story on some of the architectural issues modernization is creating in Yangon, and all over Myanmar.
Similar to urbanization, modernization, can create isolation and displacement of a native population. Developers interests are often not aligned with local peoples’ interests. If there is not a clear line of communication between developers and the desires and realities of the people who live in these places then often architectural integrity and traditions people believe in are threatened. There has to be a way to create a balance between modernization and tradition, between progression and an old foundation that seems outdated–but is very important to a country’s identity.
Myanmar is going through, now, what many developing countries started going through almost several decades ago. Trying to determine what is truly apart of their nation’s identity and to find ways to bring the old into new. Architecture, as we most popularly know from the ancient Romans, Greeks and Egyptians, is the character and history of a place. It is the visual foundation and a cultural identifier. The same way certain historical architecture is preserved in places like Italy and Greece, Myanmar should think about what architectural styles and buildings represent their country–no matter how tumultuous their history is. These should be preserved even with modernization. Although you can keep history written in books, the physical manifestations of history rarely last as long. Thus, if the architectural integrity can remain along with modernization happening then I don’t see why it should be torn down.
Preserving beauty in all forms, architectural or otherwise, is one of the most important things a country can do. It is the visual beauty, especially in urban centers, that has so many meanings for the people who live there. These landmarks are not inanimate bricks without stories, on the contrary they are built-in evidence of the past, of the present ware, and the foundation for the future. Yangon Heritage Trust is one organization working on preserving some of this cultural-historical architecture in Myanmar.