The British came to Burma in the early 1800s and captured the city, then known as Yangon, during the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824–26). Much of the city was destroyed by fire in 1841. After the Second Anglo-Burmese War of 1852, the British seized Yangon and began to transform it into the commercial and political hub the colony. Based on a design by an army engineer, they rebuilt the city on a modern grid pattern, with east-west and north-south streets centered on the historic Sule Pagoda. According to Wikipedia (citing various sources), "Colonial Yangon, with its spacious parks and lakes and mix of modern buildings and traditional wooden architecture, was known as "the garden city of the East." By the early 20th century, Yangon had public services and infrastructure on par with London."
The photograph above shows the Sule Pagoda in 1957, when the streets were tree-lined and had little traffic. Back then, only diplomats and Americans had cars. This is a scan from a Kodachrome slide taken with a Leica IIIC camera. The view is looking south along Sule Pagoda Road, with City Hall on the left.
Central Railway Station. The tiered roofs are called Pyatthat, common in many Buddhist structures. The size of the City Hall and the amount it must have cost gives an idea of the importance of Rangoon to the British Empire. They assumed the empire would last and wanted to be prepared with appropriate administrative and structural infrastructure. But war was to follow in a few years, and the British fled Rangoon in early 1942 under the onslaught of the Japanese Imperial Army. The British returned in 1945, only to grant independence to Burma in 1948.
Rangoon is becoming an architecture destination. Numerous journalists have recognized Rangoon's amazing colonial architecture, and a Google search will bring up plenty of references. As an example, The Independent wrote how the "Colonial past could be the saving of Rangoon."
Thant Myint-U (2011) in a Financial Times article, wrote, "It’s one of the best preserved colonial cityscapes in the world. Rangoon’s unique architectural heritage has survived decades of war, dictatorship, isolation and economic decline. Whether it survives a transition to democracy and renewed prosperity remains to be seen."
To be be continued....
Thant Myint-U, 2011. Forgotten treasures, Financial Times, Dec. 2, 2011.