21 Aug 2019

The Tourist Burma Building – Turquoise Mountain

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Established in 2006, Turquoise Mountain started in Afghanistan restoring damaged building such as the Institute of Afghan Arts and Architecture. After expanding to Myanmar, the Turquoise Mountain team originally cut their construction teeth on a restoration project on Merchant Street that started in 2015. As the building was currently occupied with residents, the team wanted to work around them, ensuring that they didn’t have to move out – even when they took the roof off.

After the success of that project, the Turquoise Mountain team were commissioned to begin work on the Tourist Burma Building, with the Yangon Regional Government funding the project. The building was deemed a priority due to its location near Sule Pagoda and the town centre. Originally named Fytche Square Building when it was built in 1905, the building became one of Myanmar’s first locally owned department stores, the Burmese Favourite Company. Later, in 1947, it was taken over by the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, giving rise to its current name. Having stood derelict since 2005, the Turquoise Mountain team started their restoration in November 2017 and are scheduled to finish in mid-2019.

The key to the plans for the Tourist Burma Building is public access. The atrium on the ground floor will be developed into an exhibition space, while the rest of the building will be home to a food hall, office spaces on the middle two floors as well as roof space, including a public roof garden.

“The priority is public access and the roof space,” says Harry Wardill, Country Director of Turquoise Mountain, describing the Tourist Burma Building. “The challenge is going to be making sure that people feel welcome to come into the building as it’s quite a formal building. For that reason the food hall has to be very accessible to welcome people and create an informal feeling.”

As well as developing the accessibility of the building, the Turquoise Mountain team also want to develop the surrounding outside space to make it more pedestrian friendly. “One of the big challenges, not just in Yangon but throughout Asia, is the lack of understanding of the relationship between buildings and the public space,” says Mr. Wardill. “Here, a lot of the space is used as parking but we’re looking to make it more of a community space.”

While restoring the façade of the building the Turquoise Mountain team discovered blue lettering around the outside spelling out a phrase that translates as “Myanmar Welcome”, a relic from the building’s time as a department store. Their decision to restore the words speaks volumes about their approach to the project. 

For Turquoise Mountain however, the completion of a fully restored building is just the starting point. “We are working here to build the capacity and professionalism of the construction industry in terms of architects and engineers,” explains Mr. Wardill. “We also have training programmes and we hold events about conservation and urban planning.”

In addition to having a practical value for the construction industry in Myanmar, the restoration of the building also holds a symbolic value too. “By doing this project we’re showing what’s possible with these buildings,” says Mr. Wardill. “We’re showing that they are assets, rather than liabilities, and showing that they can be creatively reused and fit for purpose.”

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