synthesis of myanmar modernity:

interviews with five architects and artists from myanmar

In collaboration with filmmaker Kriz Chan Nyein, a series of interviews with renowned architects and artists from Myanmar was conducted. They all describe very different aspects of the development of modernism in Myanmar.

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U Shwe

U Shwe was born near Mandalay in 1939. With the help of a scholarship from the Japanese government, he was able to study in Japan, where he graduated in architecture from the Maebashi Municipal College of Technology. After internships with Ashihara Yoshinobu and KAJIMA Corporation in Tokyo, he returned to Myanmar in 1972. He taught at the Architecture Department of the Rangoon Institute of Technology (now Yangon Technological University) until his retirement in 1990. Parallel to his teaching activities, he ran a small architectural office, with which he was able to realize a few buildings. He has written articles on architecture for various publications and translated short stories from English and Japanese to Myanmar.

His architecture is unmistakably influenced by his training in Japan. In many of his projects he combines Japanese simplicity with the formal canon of traditional Myanmar architecture.

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U Sun Oo

Architect U Sun Oo was born in 1955 and opened his first practice, Architect Sun Oo and Associates, in Yangon in 1979. Today he runs Design 2000 in Yangon and is an honorary professor at the Department of Architecture at Yangon Technological University and a visiting professor at the Faculty of Architecture at Mandalay Technological University. He is also a patron of the Association of Myanmar Architects AMA, Vice-Chairman of ICOMOS Myanmar, and a member of the Committee for Highrise and Public Buildings of the Ministry of Construction, to name but a few of his many activities.

Against the backdrop of the country’s economic and political opening, the development of a specifically Myanmar architecture is an important task for the future. He has been awarded national and international prizes for his architecture, which often makes formal reference to traditional buildings.

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U Win Pe

U Win Pe was born in Mandalay in 1936. He studied with U Ba Thet, considered one of the first painters to paint in the Western style, and with U Kin Maung, a banker and arts patron who also became famous as a painter. Both are considered among the first artists to bring modernism and abstract expressionism to Myanmar. Together with the painter Paw Oo Thett, U Win Pe is considered a member of the second generation of modern artists in Myanmar.

During his life, U Win Pe worked as a newspaper cartoonist, gem dealer, film director, writer of short stories, and director of the State School of Fine Arts, Music, and Dance in Mandalay. In 1964 he visited the United States, where he soon set up the Myanmar branch of Radio Free Asia – making it impossible for him to return to his native country for many years. Finally, in 2015, he was able to return to Yangon, and since devoted himself mainly to painting.

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U Maw Lin

U Maw Lin was born in Yangon in 1959. He studied architecture at Rangoon Institute of Technology (RIT, now Yangon Technological University), where he received his bachelor’s degree in 1984 and his diploma in 1986. In 1992, he completed his MSc in Urban Planning at the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok. From 1984 to 1988 he worked in the office of U Sun Oo. Later he became Division Coordinator at the Design Office of the Central Group of Companies, for which he works as in-house architect and interior designer. In 2002, together with Moe Moe Lwin, he founded Living Design Architects and Planners in Yangon. He is also president of the Association of Myanmar Architects (AMA), a visiting professor at Yangon Technological University and chief editor at People’s Affairs Journal.

Living Design Architects work on a wide range of projects, including department stores, hotels, office buildings, and private villas. Their formal language is discreetly modern, with reduced geometries and a deliberate use of materials.

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Nay Myo Say

The interview with Nay Myo Say took place in his home, which he built together with an architect friend almost exclusively from recycled materials. Born in 1967, Nay Myo Say studied medicine at Rangoon University before turning to art and studying with renowned Burmese artist U Lun Gywe. Nay Myo Say is considered a representative of the “third wave” of young Burmese painters, whose “work was not an angry rebellion; more a celebration of opportunity” and whose art is “full of joyful, colorful outbursts,” according to Andrew Rendard in his book, Burmese Painting: A Linear and Lateral History (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2009). Nay Myo Say’s painting is considered thoroughly Burmese, and he often depicts human figures in traditional dress. In the late 1980s, Nay Myo Say  also enjoyed great success as a singer in Myanmar; to this day he runs a bar called Mr. Guitar in Yangon.