Myanmar: my learning marvel

UQ architecture student Siubhan Rudge’s aspirations to work in Asia led her to the heat of Myanmar’s capital city Yangon thanks to the New Colombo Plan. Here she discusses the marvel of learning in Myanmar.

Architecture involves designing spaces that have a positive influence over the experience of the built environment. It uses problem solving to provide an optimal solution for each project regardless of the scale.

I chose to study architecture at UQ because I hope to one day contribute and make a difference through smart design solutions. When studying architecture, quite often our designs and ideas are influenced through our own personal experiences. By opening ourselves up to new discoveries and unique experiences, we can progress and explore new elements of design in the hope to create a better space.

Going into the final year of my undergraduate degree, the opportunity came up to participate in an overseas project funded by the New Colombo Plan as a part of Mobility Matters. Working in Asia had always been something I’d aspired to do after living and travelling extensively around Asia, so I couldn’t let the opportunity pass. I was lucky enough to be one of 20 architecture students selected to participate in a two week practical design and research project in Yangon, Myanmar.

UQ architecture student Siubhan Rudge (centre)

UQ architecture student Siubhan Rudge (centre)

The information we collected through research before arriving in Yangon was nothing compared to what we learnt during our two week stay.

The New Colombo Plan provided us with a unique opportunity to not only immerse ourselves in the culture, but also gain an insight into what it’s like to work in Asia. We learnt how to communicate with clients and colleagues despite a language barrier, as well as how to design for another culture and environment. During the program, my colleagues and I had the opportunity to be mentored by Brisbane architect David Gole, who had previously worked in Myanmar.

We also collaborated with many local student architects and worked with Yangon Heritage Trust, Turquoise Mountain and the Association of Myanmar Architects (AMA). The information we collected through research before arriving in Yangon was nothing compared to what we learnt during our two week stay.

We set out on a mission to redevelop the exterior and surroundings of an old colonial building that had been highlighted by Yangon Heritage Trust as an active site within the city centre.

Designing in a new city where customs, culture and practice were completely different was a little daunting at first. However,after we spent time exploring and understanding the surroundings, we were soon passionate about developing a plan that could create a beneficial change to the locals – especially the street traders.

On top of that, we were taken on guided tours by members of the Yangon Heritage Trust and told about the fantastic history of many colonial heritage buildings, and shown examples of some repurposed buildings.

After soaking up the atmosphere of the city, we started working in the studio space donated by AMA. While we developed our proposals, we were also fortunate enough to collaborate with local university students during our all-day studio sessions. Although the language barrier was tricky at times, there was still an amazing amount of knowledge exchanged, including information about local education systems, architectural practice and preferred construction methods and materials. The opportunity provided us with insight into what it’s like working in another country, understanding the culture and how this plays an important role in design collaboration, and delivering an outcome.

Although we spent a lot of time in the studio, a few of us managed to take a weekend trip away to Bagan, an ancient city in the centre of Myanmar.

Witnessing such a unique environment and way of living also contributed to our project. I’m not sure what I’ll remember more – climbing to the top of a 13th century temple and gazing out to a horizon filled with temples of varying scale or driving past them on our rented mopeds.

The opportunity to go overseas to Myanmar to work and study was an unforgettable experience. The techniques and methods to deal with architectural design for another culture was something that you could only learn through practical experience. I’ll also take away with me the vibrant, creative, and exotic approach to architecture.

Regardless if you study architecture, anyone who has the passion to put themselves out there to create change, want to experience firsthand what it’s like to work with and among people from other cultures, and want to make unforgettable memories, I strongly recommend getting involved with Mobility Matters!