Tourist Burma Building,

Yangon, Myanmar

Overview

The Former Ministry of Hotels and Tourism Building (Former Tourist Burma Building) is one of the most important historic landmark buildings in downtown Yangon. Its fine classical architecture stands in a prominent location, overlooking the popular Mahabadoola Park and neighbouring the two-thousand-year-old Sule Pagoda. Originally opened as a department store in 1905, by 2016 the building had been largely unoccupied for thirty years and in need of major restoration.

Turquoise Mountain, a non-profit organization specialising in heritage-led regeneration, were invited by the Yangon Regional Government to lead on the building’s conservation and adaptive reuse. FCBS were subsequently appointed to lead on the conceptual design, working collaboratively with local practice, Statement Architects. Further support was provided by Buro Happold in developing the environmental strategy and Grant Associates in landscape proposals.

The key ambitions for the project were to create an economically sustainable cultural hub to benefit and inspire the people of Yangon, kick start regeneration within the immediate downtown & wider area, and to provide an exemplar for conservation & creative reuse. FCBS hoped to further our understanding of sustainable design in a tropical setting, to collaborate internationally and to share our understanding of best conservation and sustainable design practices.

Completed in 2019, the repair and regeneration of the grand internal volumes of the building secures its future for many decades to come as a space to showcase and promote Myanmar’s craft industries. A mixed-use building, it has commercial offices on the upper floors while the ground floor and a series of roof terraces are fully accessible to the public. The open plan ground floor includes a food hall, events space and an exhibition space, with plans for it house a permanent design forum to promote public discussion and to explore the city's urban form - past, present and future.

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Geographical and Topographical Context 

Myanmar sits, for the most part, north of the Equator within the Tropic of Cancer. Though the country’s climate is variable, the Yangon Deltaic zone can be described as having a tropical monsoon climate, characterised by mid-to-high temperatures, seasonal heavy rains and high humidity levels.

 

There are three distinct seasons in the region: the ‘cold-dry’ season, from November to February, has average daily temperatures of 22oC, with noticeably cooler evenings; the hot-dry season from March to April with average temperatures of 32oC; and the wet season between May and October, with average temperatures of 27oC, dominated by the southwest monsoons which can make it feel particularly oppressive and overcast.

 

Though Yangon experiences some seasonal variation in humidity levels, they remain consistently high throughout the year. Very humid periods, combined with comparatively low average wind speeds, impacts heavily on the perceived comfort levels for residents and for this reason most new buildings in Yangon utilise extensive air conditioning. It was in response to this that the strategy for cooling the Former Tourist Burma Building was developed, aiming to challenge the perception of comfort in the spaces without actively cooling as far as possible.

Sustainability Impact 

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Although developed with the principles of One Planet Living in mind, the redevelopment process adopted by Turquoise Mountain and the redevelopment itself address a number of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, namely:

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By focussing on the use of locally sourced materials and construction techniques, the scheme aims to provide and promote local employment and job opportunities.

Bioclimatic Design Principles 

Working within the context of an historic building can be challenging, particularly when trying to introduce bioclimatic design principles. To better understand the performance of the existing building and evaluate future occupancies, daylight modelling was carried out and thermal sensors used to capture temperature fluctuations within the spaces over a period of several months. Modelling demonstrated uniform natural light levels for most of the year while temperature readings assisted in evaluating the periods when occupants would be comfortable, should no works be carried out. Fortunately the Former Tourist Burma Building already had a number of climate responsive design features which, with a few modifications, allowed for a simple, light touch approach.

 

Challenging perceptions of comfort with high humidity levels was a key driver for the redevelopment. Rather than trying to change the humidity (which is very difficult if not using air conditioning) the best way to alleviate discomfort due to high humidity is to increase air flow and maximise cooling from ambient and radiant effects. To this end, the redevelopment sought to maximise opportunities provided by the existing form and fabric, whilst minimising intervention in the historically sensitive spaces.

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Solar Orientation and Shading The orientation of the building meant that it received the majority of its sunlight in the mornings, with almost the whole building shaded at midday and the afternoon, reducing chances of overheating. It’s deep reveals, decorative cornices and porticoes offered further shading.