The price of history: restoring the former railways headquarters

Restoration work is never straightforward but the former Burma Railways headquarters poses particular challenges for those hoping to turn it into a luxury HOTEL IN the coming years.

The building, according to project backer Serge Pun, was built on a slab that is around 60 centimetres (2 feet) deep, but lacks any footings to anchor it to the ground. To fix this, the building will need to undergo a process of underpinning, which would see piles driven 30 to 40 metres into the ground, after which the building can be re-laid on this new foundation.

“That [underpinning] has never been done in Yangon but it is a very, very common method of preserving old buildings in London, Paris, in Singapore, and everywhere else. If you look at the diagram it’s basically giving it new legs that go right down,” Mr Pun told The Myanmar Times.

Once this process is complete, work will be able to begin on replacing support beams, load-bearing walls and other structural elements. The entire building will be braced with a series of brackets to ensure it remains structurally sound during the process.

The estimated cost of the entire Landmark project now stands in excess of US$400 million. While Mr Pun did not put a figure on the cost of restoration, preserving a piece of history undoubtedly carries a hefty price tag.

“Restoring this old building will cost me twice as much as if I rebuilt it, brand-new, [in a way] that looks identical to what it looks like today. That’s the essence of restoration and preserving heritage. You can build a brand-new building that looks identical but it’s not a historic building.”

The building dates from the late 1800s but was constructed in phases as the country’s private railway companies merged before becoming a state-run enterprise. Ho Weng Hin, a partner at Studio Lapis, a Singapore-based heritage consultancy that has been hired to assess the building, said because of this it tells the larger history of Myanmar, through the colonial and post-independence periods.

While nearly every piece of the building, from windows to floorboards, will need major restoration, one element of the building that will not be changed, according to Mr Ho, is the teak doors. Cut from the famed Myanmar hardwood, many of the doors remain in good condition despite being exposed to Yangon’s tropical climate for more than 100 years.


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