New addition to Yangon skyline

Luxury complex architect aims at “least impact” on Shwedagon

Alex Lau, a veteran architect of high-end developments in Hong Kong, China, North America, and South-East Asia, is leading the design work on a luxury complex scheduled to appear on the Yangon skyline, near the landmark Shwedagon Pagoda, in 2019. The deputy managing director of the Wong Tung Group of Companies, based in Hong Kong, is no stranger to Yangon having previously worked on the Sule Shangri-La Hotel (formerly Traders). The Wong Tung Group of Companies has also undertaken the design of the Lakeside Shangri-La Hotel rimming Kandawgyi Lake, set to open in 2017.

The group is partnering with multinational real estate development syndicate Marga Group and its local partner Thu Kha Yadanar. The partnership has been named Marga Landmark, including the Marga Group, the Wong Tung Group of Companies and Myanmar-based architecture and design firm, SpiNE. Marga Landmark, the majority shareholder, owns 70 percent of shares and is set to invest USD$300 million (K293.1 billion) in the development. Myanmar-based developer and local partner for the project Thu Kha Yadanar owns the remaining 30 percent of shares.

Mizzima Business Weekly’s Portia Larlee interviewed Mr Lau about his firm’s designs for Yangon, a poor city with a rich architectural legacy and a growing heritage preservation movement.

Describe the design of your current project ‘Dagon City 1,’ a 22-acre (8.9 hectares) development between Shedagon Pagoda Road and Zoological Garden Road in central Yangon.

Dagon City 1 is a mix-use development in modern architecture style. To me, modern architecture is about the people and how people want to live in a space and structure. The structure needs to be functional in its context. It is not just something pretty to look at. Efficiency is of prime concern. We are interpreting existing motifs and referencing the history of the city. This can happen in any city.

Myanmar is on the UN list of least developed countries. This mix-used design including a luxury mall, five star hotel and high-end residences could be considered excessive in Yangon. Please comment.

This kind of development will uplift the economic growth of the city. To me a city is always changing and evolving.

Shwedagon Pagoda is among the most important Buddhist landmarks in the country and Dagon City 1 will drastically change the landscape surrounding it. How will you consider Shwedagon and the history of Yangon in the design?

Our belief is that landmark and heritage sites have to be preserved and respected. In the case of this development, we are sticking strictly to the guidelines issued by the YCDC (Yangon City Development Committee.)

For our part, we also designed the development in such a way so it has the least impact on the Shwedagon landmark. We were careful with the choice of materials and controlling the scale of the buildings.

It is difficult to say a city should stay put because of heritage sites. We have to handle this through careful planning. That’s why we are here, because we have experience in working in heritage cities. At the end we just need to strike a balance.

Do projects by Wong Tung Group of Companies set a standard for the government to follow?

I would think so. For our two projects, we are using international standards, new building technologies and introducing new building materials into the city. Wong Tung Group of Companies is based in Hong Kong, which used to be a British colony. The local building codes in Hong Kong are at British standard and very strict. We apply the same standard here.

Describe Wong Tung Group of Companies’ experience gaining Myanmar Investment Commission and YCDC approval for Dagon City 1.

For a development like this you have to go through a lot of government submissions. We started with MIC (Myanmar Investment Commission) and then we needed to work closely with YCDC. Everything is done according to the regulations. I have to emphasize the fact that our design is strictly legal.

Has YCDC ordered any changes to your designs?

As far as Dagon City 1, this hasn’t happened yet. But for the other project we are doing (Lakeside Shangri-La Hotel) there were cases where they did look at our submission and recommended some changes. If there are any changes to the design from YCDC we definitely go with it. In fact, this is a good thing, it means they really want us to follow the regulations.

Will you design low-cost housing in Yangon?

Our development (Dagon City 1) does not include public housing. The Wong Tung Group of Companies has the experience (of designing low-cost housing) in Hong Kong and Singapore. As far as we are concerned, in terms of residential designs, whether luxurious or low cost housing, the design is pretty similar. Essentially these designs are for people.

If the opportunity arises, we certainly would like to contribute to the local community by sharing our experience with our local counterpart.

Source: MIZZIMA Myanmar

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