ONE OF THE LARGEST Colonial buildings in Southeast Asia, the Secretariat in Myanmar, is being restored to its former glory and will be used as a cultural complex containing museums, galleries, cultural event spaces, lounges and offices for creative industries.

Award-winning Singapore-based sustainable design firm Pomeroy Studio has been appointed to restore this abandoned 120-year-old former colonial government office in Yangon. The project is scheduled for completion by 2019.

“The Secretariat is recognised as one of Yangon’s most important heritage buildings, and has been the scene of the most defining moments of Myanmar’s modern history. This includes the assassination of General Aung San, which paved the country’s path to independence. Restoring this grand colonial building to its former glory and reinvigorating its internal spaces with a programme of arts-related functions, seeks to both preserve Yangon’s cultural past, and cultivate Myanmar’s creative future” said Prof Jason Pomeroy, founding principal of Pomeroy Studio.

The Secretariat Courtyard and East Wing view from South Wing

The Secretariat occupies approximately 16 acres in the South of Yangon, and was designed by British architect Henry Hoyne-Fox (1855-1905) as the epicentre of Rangoon (present day Yangon), the first Southeast Asian garden city. Work started in 1890 on the central building, with the Eastern, Western and Northern wings added in subsequent years.

However, an Earthquake in 1930 laid many of the Secretariat’s iconic features, including its turrets and central dome, to waste, and the building was left to fall into disrepair post-independence. The restoration forms part of the Yangon Heritage Trust’s aim to restore and preserve the city’s architectural heritage in the face of break-neck development and modernisation, a heritage that is deemed of world importance.

Pomeroy Studio is working with heritage and conservation expert Prof Luigi Croce of Architetti Croce. The Padova-based firm is taking a careful restorative approach that seeks to preserve the exterior and key internal areas of historical significance and reinstate the original building’s details that were of architectural merit. The extensive settlement, an earthquake and the general dilapidation that took place over decades of neglect presents acute challenges in the restoration.

A counterpoint to the restoration of the British colonial structure was the careful reinterpretation of Burmese cultural elements. 

A striking feature is the new roof structure that caps a lofty cylindrical atrium space with a grand wrought–iron staircase, which was once crowned by a heavy brick dome. Given settlement and structural issues, a lightweight and sustainable solution was needed. Pomeroy thus created a unique reinterpretation of the pathein, the traditional Burmese umbrella, that sought to perform the very same tasks of counteracting direct glare from the sun; protection from the rain and act as a heat vent – albeit at a building scale.

Burmese culture was brought into the interior spaces by reinterpreting the pan se myo (10 traditional arts), that range from stone carving through lacquerware. These techniques sensitively complement the original shell and core of the 19th-century building whilst also employing local craftsmen and their skills.

Internal Colonnade in the South Wing

Colonial Rangoon was once heralded as Asia’s first garden city; yet urbanisation has seen the gradual erosion of green open spaces in modern Yangon. Pomeroy Studio was also appointed for landscape design with a particular emphasis on rehabilitating the greenery and restoring the parklands, quadrangle and grand lawns to their original condition. The cultural celebration of Martyrs’ Day through a central memorial, coupled with sensitive lighting will be the focal point of the new landscaped quadrangle and will provide a welcome respite from the busy and bustling city outside of its walls, and thus create a much-needed green open space for the south of Yangon.

Given that the buildings themselves were designed before the advent of electricity, the original high ceilings and large windows/skylights will continue to optimise natural light and ventilation, with the careful use of new smart technologies and modern conveniences to enhance the user experience and, reduce overall energy and water consumption. 

Locally sourced materials, crafted locally and expert supervision by restoration experts from Italy seeks to further ensure the overall sustainability of the development.

News Reporter

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