From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the lovely colonial architecture of downtown Yangon.  That is not what we are going to talk about today.  Today we are going to get a little tour of the architectural crimes against humanity that are infecting our neighbourhood. When we visited the Secretariat that last two weekends, we spent some time looking at a map of Yangon in the 1920s.  Thanks to the giant lake/reservoir that is at the end of our road, it is easy to pinpoint where our house would be on that map.  Only of course 100 years ago every place outside of the well-planned grid system of downtown Yangon was basically a forest.  The city grew bit by bit and our neighbourhood of Bagan or Golden Valley was obviously claimed by Yangonites with cash.  You know how they say money can’t buy you taste?  No where is it more evident than here.

This is a traditional Burmese home.  Made of wood and raised up to have the living quarters be above ground in case of flooding in the rainy season.  IMG_7590

This is actually a very expensive furniture showroom where you can go on a Saturday and the lady who runs it pours you glass after glass of wine while you shop and suddenly you have a new dining table that you didn’t know you needed.  Very few of these types of traditional houses exist in Yangon any more, I imagine the upkeep and modernisation is more expensive than knocking them down and putting up something concrete.

It would be lovely if people with cash tried to do something that echoed this traditional architecture.  But they don’t.  There seems to be nothing the Burmese love more than an unnecessary column.  Also they don’t pick one style and go with it- Doric, Ionic, Corinthian?  Jam ’em all on one house!  Add some weird porticoes and random unusable balconies and you have yourself a fancy Yangon suburban home.


You can see what I am talking about.  Every house is ridiculously giant and full of strange neo-classic design elements.  We have a friend who is an IB art teacher who can barely sit on our balcony and look at the house across the street.  The mish-mash of styles completely makes him crazy. Our house, up there at the top, is positively restrained.

The other thing that people do is use every available inch of space to build on.  This means that houses are about 6 inches from each other and your windows might look directly into your neighbour’s house.


Those are two different houses!

The Burmese also LOVE a sweeping staircase.  Alas, we do not have one, but many fancy houses have a grand curving staircase that takes up lots of space.  Maybe the most ridiculous example of this is directly across the road from us.


See that weird thing that looks like a corn silo or something?  It’s a staircase, tacked on to the side of the house! That’s it!  It is so ridiculous.  Once in a while they turn on all the lights in that thing and we can see straight inside.

Despite the enormous size of these houses, no one has any outside space.  Most of the houses butt right up to their gate and there are very few blades of grass to be seen anywhere. IMG_7592

Too many columns?  Check. Weird balcony? Check.  One inch of space between the front door and the gate?  Check check check.  See also: razor wire everywhere despite there being no crime.

We actually do have a little outside space, but any space of this kind is immediately paved over.  We are super lucky to have a small raised area of grass, but most of our front area has been tiled.  We’ve added some potted plants to green it up a bit.


Oh well, you kind of actually get used to the crazy houses.  It’s fun to go to other people’s places and see what’s weird about their living situation. New construction that is going up seems to be a bit more modern and less column-obsessed, so perhaps tastes are changing.

In other news, the rain is easing off quote dramatically and the heat is ramping up.  My sarcastic weather app is giving me a few chuckles.  This was yesterday.


My feelings exactly.

One thought on “From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

Add yours

  1. Maybe there’s no crime BECAUSE there’s razor wire?

    Seriously, McMansions in the United States have so many of these same elements — zero lot lines, unnecessary balconies and columns and porticoes. (Although the US versions tend toward a pseudo-Italian style.) I wonder who is inspiring who?


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