Architecture was introduced for the very first time in 1954 at BOC, University of Rangoon. U Myo Myint Sein belongs to this first batch. One of his classmates, Ko Myint Thein retired as Chief Architect of Public Works Department in Yangon. We were the “third batch” and were fortunate to study at the brand new “Faculty of Engineering” campus, commonly known as “Leik-khone” at Pyay [Prome] Road. There were nine of us in the first year, (1956). One of them was Shajahan, an Indian lady who became the first female to join the male dominated Engineering campus. However, she was unfortunate to be the victim of the “2F” system of our days. She left for India and later graduated as an Architect from there.
In our second year, three guys from the second batch joined us. One from the first batch joined us in the final year. Two of the old-timers became the victims of the “2F” system.
One very unique and interesting aspect of being an architecture student is doing design work. We were trained to solve design problems within a stipulated time and because of that we use to spend most of our time in our studio class. Eventually, the studio became our second home. We practically eat and sleep there and we spent our break times in the studio as well.
Only when attending related Engineering subjects, we join together with other Engineering students. Otherwise, we normally confined ourselves within the Department of Architecture block and among our own group. Thus, the reason that most of the Engineering students came to know us because we were like “caged animals” in the zoo; being watched by people from outside and in our case by our friends as they walked along the corridors. Although the majority of us were day students, we were better off than those staying in the hostels as we didn’t have to pay extra to live in the studios. It was fun spending our time in the studios and as we were able to come up with fantastic ideas and designs and draw them as and whenever desired and complete the project within the stipulated time. For us, we didn’t had “days” and “nights”. The nights were more peaceful and productive for us. Only the studios in the architecture block were lit up at night. Sometimes, we even walk over to Hledan, Kamayut to have our break and supper.
When architecture was introduced at BOC in 1954, there were one British and two Indian architects as full time staff assisted by their Myanmar counterparts. They were still teaching us during our first year. Roger Johnson, also a British architect became head of Department when we got to the second year. He was assisted by Nagler, an American architect and Saya U Kyaw Min (GBNF) and Saya U Win Htain in the later years. Sayagyi U Tha Tun (GBNF), Saya U Maung Maung, Saya U Aung Myint, Saya U Khin Mg Thint and Saya U San Tun Aung were part time staff. All the architectural subjects and the studio design work were taught by them except the freehand drawing class which was taught by an artist. We were fortunate that there were no changes in the staff and they all taught us till we graduated in 1960.
Apart from the architectural staff, our years at the University will not be complete without mentioning some of our Engineering Faculty staff who taught us some of the related Engineering subjects.
The first person I wish to mention is Sayagyi Num Kock. He taught us structure and we sometimes didn’t attend his class due to our studio design assignments. Since the class was meant only for architectural students, and since he knew where to find us, he used to come straight to our studio and requested us to come and attend his class. He was very good natured, humble, and led a simple life carrying a shan bag instead of a leather brief case. We always saw him with a smiling face and was very soft spoken.
Another Saya I remembered well was Saya U Kyit In (later known as U Min Wun). He taught us survey and he was just back from the United States at that time. Whenever I had problem with the survey readings, he came over and nudged me out and checked the readings himself. He used to wear khaki long pants with a single buckle at the rear, which was the fashion of those days.
Then I remember my Strength of Materials saya, Saya U Ba Than, who happens to be my brother. He was very strict and didn’t give any special favors even to his own brother. He was famous in setting questions for the exam as he never repeated the same ones that were given and worked out in the class.
The list won’t be complete without mentioning Saya U Kyaw Tun(GBNF) who taught us Electro Technology. Since his classes were immediately after the lunch break, we had a hard time to overcome sleepiness and be attentive to his lectures.
Last, but not least, I wish to mention about Saya Solomon and Saya Wein Choung. Their metal and wood work classes were always enjoyable and plenty of fun. We were in a totally different environment, not like those of lecture theaters or studio rooms. It was in these classes that we learnt the practical aspect of transforming design drawings into finished products.
My wonderful six years at the Rangoon University will not be complete without mentioning about my rowing activities. Since I came from a rowing family starting from my uncle Chan Cheng Hock who was Captain (1940-41) and the present oldest surviving Captain, I also became Captain (1959-60) after my two brothers U Tin U (ex-faculty member of BOC) and Dr. Myo Tint. I earned my “Gold” in 1956 by competing in the Inter-varsity regatta at Calcutta. I had the opportunity to represent RUBC seven times in regattas abroad and several times in Yangon.
Although we started with nine students in the first year in 1956, ten of us graduated in 1960 due to the circumstances explained earlier. Philip Koon Ying Chu, who is now retired after being a very successful restaurant businessman in the Bay area, stood first. It was not the first time for him to have this academic achievement as he got first in the matriculation (in the whole of Burma) and was able to maintain the same position for the Intermediate of Science as well. Out of these ten graduates, six are now residing in the States. Among these six, Tan Teong Kiat (aka) Wai Lwin is the most successful professionally. He is doing consultancy work specializing in conceptual design. S. Hsiang Wu, Victor Pe Win and Jack Min continue to practice architecture in the private sector. Aung Kyee Myint became the Chief Architect of Public Works Department in Yangon and is now serving as an Advisor after his retirement. Khin Maung Yin excels in design and eventually became a well known artist in Myanmar. Later, he spent most of his time giving tuition to children. H. Hla Myint was unfortunate not to live long and passed away a few years ago.
As for me, I had to be contented with being a Managing Partner of Architects Incorporated after graduating and running my own business. It was challenging, exciting and rewarding compared to being in the Government service. However, in 1962, we had to close down our business. I joined the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) to open a new architectural division with my two partners Aung Kyee Myint and Bo Gyi in 1964. IDC, together with Housing Board and other Civil Engineering organizations were amalgamated to form Public Works Corporation. While working with Public Works, I had the opportunity to design Thiripyitsayar Hotel in Pagan (Bagan). Now, it is the only hotel complex left within the archaeological zone of Pagan and I am proud to be associated with it. I left Myanmar in 1980 and worked as Sr. Architect with one of the well known architectural firms in Singapore. I had a wonderful and memorable time for over ten years designing multi-story hotels, aerospace exhibition pavilions, commercial complexes, restoration projects and luxurious bungalows. In the beginning I had to work very hard to get acquainted with building codes, bye-laws and local regulations as we never had such standards and regulations to abide by at home. It was wonderful to discharge the duties of an architect properly as “Prime Consultant”. It was like a “Commander-in-Chief”, coordinating with other Engineering disciplines and the related fields like interior decorators and landscape architects, chairing site meetings etc.
Now that I have settled down in Los Angeles and working for Design Division of L.A. County Dept. of Public works, I am devoting most of my time more in assisting those who are deeply involved in the propagation and perpetuation of Buddha Sasana.
In conclusion, I wish to pay my tribute to all my Sayas and wish to thank them for educating and equipping us with proper tools in order to be able to face any type of situation in this world. And to my classmates, I salute all of you for your lifetime achievements and hope that this article will throw some light about our wonderful days at “Leik-khone”.