On the architecture of Naypyidaw

Via BoingBoing, fascinating photos of Burma’s new capital from, literally, the first tourists there. It seems to me from these pictures that the government wanted a new city that was more like Singapore or southern California and less like, well, Burma.

Check out these houses:

Burmese bungalows

Note that each of them has a garage — in a country that is essentially without roads. Garages make sense (well, as far as it goes) in Orange County but not so much in a country like Burma. The oddness of these houses in that context cannot be overstated.

My guess is that these houses are inspired by similar-looking developments in suburban Bangkok or perhaps Singapore or Shanghai.  Those housing developments — in their overall master plan and in the particulars of the architecture — in turn draw directly on American suburban housing, especially in southern California. All of that seems reasonable to me: Burmese generals visit Bangkok and see new housing developments which are influenced by Thais returning from, say, Irvine. As much as Burma has any contact with the outside world, it’s with Bangkok and Singapore.

The southern California gated community with attached housing, in turn, draws directly on the experience of the mass-produced single family houses of the new suburbias created after World War II for returning veterans and their growing families: Levittown and all that. These communities, in an oft-told tale (see, among others, Anthony King’s history, The Bungalow) mass-produced the idealized American house, derived from the popular craftsman bungalow style of the turn of the century. This style was influenced by the British arts & crafts movement — itself a response to industrialization — and the houses, which they called bungalows, built by returning colonial administrators, especially from India.

In India, these colonists lived in grand houses called “bungalows,” a word whose etymology is disputed but probably derives from Gujarati via the Hindi for “Bengali” (“bangla” thus “Bangladesh”, “land of the Bengalis”) since Calcutta was where the British first built their private houses.

Thus, I think you can draw a line, not too straight, but a connection nonetheless, from these bizarre new Burmese houses to neighboring Bangladesh, via Bangkok and Irvine Ranch and Long Island and Surrey and Simla.

One thought on “On the architecture of Naypyidaw

  1. They are not (residential) houses. They are shop houses. What you think is the garage is the shop. The doors are closed because in the picture none of the shops were yet open. There might be an apartment on the top floor for the owner. If you go back to the same place now you will see it’s like a market.

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