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72th Martyrs’ Day Secretariat building renovated for Martyrs’ Day three-day event


Myanmar's Secretariat building, which has been renovated with some of the original furnishings, will open to the public for three days starting Wednesday to mark the 70th anniversary of Martyrs’ Day, when General Aung San and eight others were assassinated, said Darren McLean, project manager.

There have been many challenges in this renovation project since the 125-year-old building had been empty for a long time, and there was water and termite damage, he said.

“I don’t think there is another project like this building in the world at the moment. Such a unique project and a one-off project, but to do the job like this correctly, we analysed the building. Some of it is made of wood, some of brick, some of stone, some of metal, which is called the building pathology,” he said, adding that they did not put in plastic windows or other modern materials, but all the materials they are using are the same as the original.

“In an old building, you cannot use modern paint. Modern paint is like plastic. So we made sure that all the materials we use, the techniques, everything is traditional,” he said.

The difficulties included not only getting traditional materials but also skilled workers, he said “It is not just Myanmar’s problem, it’s the same around the world. It was easier to get enormous pieces of wood 100 years ago, but these days, it’s very difficult. And skills are also a big difficulty, because as the world becomes more modern, people often forget skills. That’s why I am here. I have gone out to learn traditional skills. I started as a tradesman, carpenter, and learned masonry, and then I went to university,” he said.

Over the years, fashions change, paints change, colours change. When you look at the paint, you can see 13 or 14 layers of paint, maybe more. We looked at them with a microscope to find out what the original colour was so we could match the original, he said.

Yangon is one of only a small number of cities in the world that could benefit greatly from its old buildings. Many of them are not in the most fantastic condition, but I think Yangon is in a wonderful position; Yangon could be without doubt the most beautiful city in Southeast Asia, McLean said.

“People do not come to a city to look at the shops or new apartment buildings because most people have shops and their own apartment buildings. People travel a long distance to look at a city on vacation because it is different from where they have come from. There are many examples in Yangon where some people have some imagination and they cleaned the building and painted it, and the building looks fantastic,” he said.

“When it’s cleaned and painted, people would stop and go ‘Wow, it’s fantastic.’ To me, Yangon is the most beautiful city in Southeast Asia, but some people might not see that. Local people might not see that. Foreigners see it. Visitors see it. I think some local people don’t understand or don’t realise what a fantastic city they live in,” he added.

In 2012, when Yangon Heritage Trust was created, YHT made the Secretariat a focus of its work. It discussed the future of the site with the government and wrote a conservation management plan for it in September 2015 at the request of the government, according to YHT.

In May 2017, YHT and the Anawmar Group, which won a bidding to restore the building in 2012, organised a meeting with historians and museum experts to discuss conservation of the cabinet meeting room where General Aung San and eight other government members were assassinated on July 19, 1947. YHT will continue assisting in the conservation and restoration of the meeting room and the former parliament building in the Secretariat complex to its original state, it said in an announcement.

YHT Chairman Dr Thant Myint-U said, “The Secretariat is a place of tremendous historical importance and a physical link to Myanmar’s colonial history as well as the history of anti-colonialism and the early post-independence governments.

“Through preservation of places like the Secretariat, we not only strengthen people’s ability to appreciate their past but also think creatively about the future.

“The renovation of the Secretariat should be part of a broader plan to revitalise all of downtown Yangon, with its dozens of historic and cultural sites. This could be a driver of tourism for the entire country, bringing jobs and supporting small businesses throughout the city.”

The Secretariat, also known as the Ministers’ building, is located at the corner of Anawrahta Road and Thein Phyu Road in Yangon. It was designed by architect Henry Hoyne Fox and started being built in January 1890. Construction of the main building was finished in December 1892. The parliament building was the first administrative office in Myanmar history and hosted Hluttaw (parliament) meetings from 1936 to 1962. The flag of the Union of Myanmar was raised for the first time on the flag pole in front of the parliament building after independence in 1948.