The blue plaques being installed on buildings in the commercial capital follow a tradition begun in London in 1867 that has spread throughout the world.
The commemorative plaques are installed on historically important buildings or other landmarks with a brief description of their significance.
“When we see a blue plaque on a building we can know that it is of historical importance,” said Daw Shwe Yinn Mar Oo, senior communications officer with the Yangon Heritage Trust.
“With the plaques we can highlight buildings of architectural significance or historical importance, including the homes of famous people,” Daw Shwe Yinn Mar Oo said.
The blue plaques are one of the most effective and visible means to celebrate Yangon’s rich history and make it accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds, she said.
Blue plaques have been appearing on heritage buildings in Yangon under a partnership announced by the trust and the big Dutch multinational, Philips, in June 2013.
Philips’ contribution to the two-year partnership was a grant of 50,000 euros (about K64.25 million) towards historical research and the cost of making and installing the plaques.
The four buildings on which the YHT has so far installed the plaques are the former Rowe & Co., department store, City Hall – the headquarters of the Yangon City Development Committee is regarded as one of the finest examples of syncretic Myanmar architecture – the Armenian Church and the Central Fire Station.
Rowe & Co., once one of the most opulent department stores in Southeast Asia, was known as the “Harrods of the East” and attracted Europeans and wealthy Asians from throughout the region.
The Armenian Apostolic Church of St John the Baptist was built in 1766. It is distinguished by tropical architecture combined with Gothic features and is the oldest church in Yangon.
The Central Fire Station is included on a list of heritage buildings compiled by the YCDC and is one of the oldest buildings in Yangon still being used for its original purpose.
More Yangon buildings will soon be wearing their blue badge of distinction. Permission to install the plaques is needed from the Yangon Region government and the Yangon City Development Committee as well as from a listed building’s owner.
The trust is waiting for final approval to install plaques at the High Court and at the former Grindlay’s Bank building (now the premises of the Myanmar Agricultural Development Bank). A plaque is awaiting installation at the former headquarters of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company (now Inland Water Transport) at a ceremony expected to be attended by senior officials.
Daw Shwe Yin Mar Oo said researching the background of the buildings can be time-consuming and challenging.
“For example, there were no documents about the Central Fire Station but one of our researchers found useful information from municipal records at the British Library in London,” she said.
A non-government organisation, the Yangon Heritage Trust was founded in March 2012 and promotes the conservation of Yangon’s rich urban architectural heritage within a cohesive urban planning process.
“Hundreds of historic buildings have been demolished during the past two decades, mainly because of unregulated development and many people feared that intensified development would threaten what remained,” Daw Shwe Yin Mar Oo said, referring to the concerns that led to the trust being formed.
In a mission statement on its website, the trust says the “conservation of Yangon’s rich architectural heritage plays a vital role in making Yangon one of the most liveable and vibrant cities in Asia”.
This Article first appeared in the December 11, 2014 edition of Mizzima Weekly.