Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Myanmar's heritage trust got it wrong: Pansodan building owners

A worker deconstructs the building at 233-235 Pansodan Street in October 2012, before demolition was halted following a media campaign by heritage activists. (Boothee/The Myanmar Times)A worker deconstructs the building at 233-235 Pansodan Street in October 2012, before demolition was halted following a media campaign by heritage activists. (Boothee/The Myanmar Times)

The owners of apartments in a Pansodan Street building on which demolition work was halted after a media campaign have challenged statements by heritage activists that it has an historic connection to the Dobama Asiayone independence movement.

Workers began demolishing the upper levels of the four-story building at 233-235 Pansodan Street in October after it was declared a dangerous structure by the Yangon City Development Committee.

The four owners, whose apartments each covered a floor of the building, were evicted by the YCDC in September. The site’s developer, United Construction Company, planned to build a 12-storey condominium on the site and the four owners said it had agreed to provide them with an apartment on the same level as the residence they had vacated.

The owners last week condemned the decision to halt the demolition work, saying that not knowing where they would next live was causing unnecessary suffering and could result in unexpected expense.

“We’ve suffered a lot because of the decision to halt the demolition work,” said Daw Tin Tin San, 35, the ground floor apartment owner.

She said the rear of the building had suffered serious structural damage because of water leakage and the YCDC had been justified to impose the demolition order.

“We have already moved out of the building and if it cannot be demolished who will pay for what would be a major renovation? Will the Yangon Heritage Trust pay for our expenses?” said Daw Tin Tin San.

“It’s like waiting for an endless future,” she said. “What I want to ask is can anyone produce the evidence that proves this building is an historic icon.”

Her concerns were echoed by the owner of the third floor apartment, U Zaw Tin, 53, who said claims made about the building by the Yangon Heritage Trust were “quite misleading”, because it had no connection with the Dobama Asiayone.

U Zaw Tin said the Dobama Asiayone (We Burmans Association), which had agitated for independence from the British, had an office in the second floor of the adjoining building.

“I think U Thant Myint-U from the Yangon Heritage Trust has confused the building at 233-235 Pansodan Street with 237-239 Pansodan Street,” he said.

U Zaw Tin said 233-235 Pansodan Street was originally a maternity hospital, which had occupied all four floors.

“I was born there in 1959 and … the building had no connection with the Dobama Asiayone or any political organisation,” he said.

“The message I want to give is that this building is not a heritage building and that those from the Yangon Heritage Trust should be more careful about what they say,” U Zaw Tin said.

The general manager of United Construction, Daw Tin Tin Wai, said the demolition halt order meant that the company was also facing “hardships and difficulties”.

She said the company had paid each apartment owner a year’s rent in advance for alternative accommodation and also had to pay for the cost of designing the 12-storey condominium.

In comments to The Myanmar Times in early December, Yangon Heritage Trust chairman Dr Thant Myint-U, said it would be a “tragedy” if the building was destroyed, adding that it had been used as a meeting place for the Dobama Asiayone in the 1930s.

In a response last week to the concerns raised by the apartment owners, Dr Thant Myint-U said the only reason the YCDC had put a demolition order on the building was because it had been assessed as a dangerous building.

“We’d like to help and see if using the latest methods and international assistance, if necessary, it would be possible still to save the building and then to improve and modernise the interior for the tenant families,” he said in the emailed response.

“We are also in discussion with YCDC to see if we can be part of all future assessments of similar buildings.”

Dr Thant Myint-U said that if there was no way to save the building, the Yangon Heritage Trust would like to ensure that the replacement building was appropriate to its context in terms of its height and design.

“I’m sure this can be done in a way that it good for the tenants, good for the owners, and in the long-term public interest of the city,” he said.“What I would hate to see is a beautiful and historic building torn down that could be saved.  But we need also to place a high priority on the needs of existing families in the neighbourhood, in particular low-income families that may have few options. 

“We need conservation to work for the poor of Yangon.  There are win-win solutions and we’d like to work with government on finding those solutions urgently.”