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Capacity Building in Myanmar

The Faculty of Architecture is making a difference to Yangon and regards its engagement with Myanmar as a multi-year commitment.

Docks and waterfront at Yangon River (image source: Ivan Valin)

Docks and waterfront at Yangon River (image source: Ivan Valin)

Yangon, the capital of Myanmar, has the largest existing example of colonial architecture in the world and, as the country opens up, it is now-or-never if that legacy is to be protected. HKU's Faculty of Architecture is contributing to that aim by assessing the city's architecture, advising authorities and helping to develop expertise.

The Faculty's association with Myanmar began around early 2013 with a conservation programme involving the NGO Yangon Heritage Trust to develop a strategy for preserving architectural treasures in the heart of the city, where money is flowing in and the impulse is to tear down and build anew.

The arrival a few months later of current Dean and Chair Professor in Urban Planning and Development Economics, Christopher Webster, accelerated the Faculty's involvement as he saw an opportunity for making a difference on an even broader scale.

The Faculty has since forged links with the Yangon Technological University (YTU), Yangon Urban Council and other bodies for both teaching and knowledge exchange programmes. It recently signed an agreement with the Ministry of Construction and YTU to allow for staff exchange, student exchange, joint teaching and other capacity building activities. The Faculty has also sent box-loads of books to restock YTU's library.

Individuals and individual units in the Faculty are also making a difference. Conservation specialist Dr Lynne DiStefanois a member of the governance body of the Yangon Heritage Trust. The Faculty's StudioMYANMAR, which creates learning opportunities in the country, has held eight studio projects including one that is linked to a contract research project by two Assistant Professors of Landscape Architecture, Dorothy Tang and Ashley Scott Kelly, who are developing a regional landscape plan in the south of the country that encompasses a highway corridor, game parks and mining and industrial developments.

The Faculty is also receiving students from Myanmar for its Masters in Urban Planning programme, who are being supported by the Asian Development Bank.

Professor Webster said the Faculty regarded its engagement with Myanmar as a multi-year commitment, and they had attracted considerable interest and support from partners in Myanmar, Hong Kong and internationally.

"The world's capitalists are knocking on the door of Myanmar – and so are the world's urbanists, the architects and planners," he said. "There is a real appetite amongst our younger colleagues in particular to work in Southeast Asia and extend the outreach work we have been doing in Mainland China."

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