Yangon is the biggest city of Myanmar and was the capital after independence until 2005. Today, over 5 million people live in the port city, with a density of over 9,000 people per square kilometre. Myanmar has over 52 million inhabitants belonging to 135 ethnic groups. Between 1962 and 2011, the country was under military rule, which has gradually become more democratic since then. In the 2015 election, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy won 77% of the seats in parliament, and Suu Kyi was subsequently appointed Foreign Minister.
Today’s Myanmar (former Burma) was integrated into the British colonial empire in the 19th century after several wars. Japan occupied the country during the Second World War until 1945, after which the British occupied the country again, but had to release it into independence in 1948. In the following 14 years, there was a democratic government, which was repeatedly challenged by ethnic conflicts. In 1962, when General Ne Win took power by force, Myanmar was closed off to the rest of the world for decades. The military government under Ne Win set out to establish the “Burmese Way to Socialism” and three years later nationalized all private companies.
After the withdrawal of the colonial power, development in engineering and architecture was first left to mainly British, American, and Indian architects and planners, until a number of Burmese students completed their training abroad or at the architecture faculty in Yangon, founded in 1954. The heavy classicist style, which had been imported from England and India and laboriously adapted to Myanmar’s tropical climate, was soon supplemented by an international modernist approach. The public buildings erected during this time – for education and health care as well as libraries and cinemas – reflect the hopes for a new emancipated society, which did not arrive as expected. After General Ne Win assumed power in 1962, local architects maintained their links to modernism and exchanges with socialist countries enriched the local discourse. The opening of the country in recent years has mobilized local financial resources and also attracted investors from the region, above all from Singapore and China, whose architects are changing the cityscape of Yangon in particular.
SEAM Space Yangon
The SEAM Space Yangon was curated by Pwint, Professor, Deputy Head of Department of Architecture – Yangon Technological University, and Win Thant Win Shwin, Architect & Planner – Mandala art & design. Their contribution Synthesis of Myamar Modernity critically analysed how modernity was translated into an architectural language in Myanmar.
Information on the programme in Yangon can be found here.