To visit Yangon, Myanmar, now is to experience a city in flux. The downtown riverfront, once a bustling cosmopolitan dream, is home to streets lined with stately old colonial buildings, full of lost history and oozing with potential. Amidst the recent handover of power from the military to a civilian government, rustlings of revitalization projects are afoot, as design and preservation present promising ways for the city to re-engage with the rest of the world.
Photo © Dina Chang
While many such projects have only been talked about, one of them has been built in an old dockside transit shed. Entrepreneur Ivan Pun and architecture firm Leong Leong have transformed the shed into a 3,800-square-foot, light-filled space showcasing rotating art exhibitions, design-oriented retail, a pop-up restaurant, and other programming for one year. The project, known as TS1 (for Transit Shed 1), is the flagship effort by the Chinese-Burmese Pun, who is eager to help revitalize his home city through culture.
For architect Dominic Leong, the project was a unique opportunity to “create a space or an environment that didn’t really exist anywhere else in Yangon.” He set to work transforming the dark, iron-clad shed with a light well that traverses the space and sends daylight cascading in through the original roof trusses. A reinforcing inner envelope was added, ensuring the space would be safe from Yangon's torrential monsoon rains. The contrast between the gritty, textured exterior of the shed and the light, minimal interior connects the site's history as a shipping port with the ever-widening possibilities for its future, both cultural and commercial.
This contrast is echoed by the interior plan. A freestanding diagonal wall was inserted to allow for programmatic separation, dividing it symmetrically into two distinct sections, without closing off the space entirely. Leong's design alludes to the dichotomy between art and commerce, all while acknowledging that the distinction between the two has become increasingly blurred. "This space represents that blurring or ambiguity...culture and commerce exist on either side of the wall, and you may not know if you are in a gallery or pop-up store or vice versa," says Leong, who conceptualized the idea for the space with artist Dina Chang.
TS1 was completed in just four weeks, opening in April with an exhibition of contemporary Burmese art, and a showroom for Myanmar Made, a design collection that showcases traditional craft along with locally-inspired contemporary design. The flexible nature of the space is a boon for its organizers, who are free to incorporate varied influences and ideas.
Ultimately, Pun hopes that this simple adaptive reuse project will serve as a model for further revitalization efforts. As Pun notes, "I wanted to encourage people to talk more about urban development, especially about the rejuvenation of downtown Yangon... we need to do more projects in the area to inspire people to [invest in reviving it]."