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Elegance of Myanmar

August 23, 2007|Janet Eastman

Burmese Design & Architecture

Introduction by John Falconer, Photographs by Luca Invernizzi Tettoni

Periplus Editions, $34.95

There are too few new books about Myanmar, the isolated Southeast Asian country also known as Burma, let alone any that showcase the elegant and exotic Burmese style: Tiered thatched huts on stilts hover above the Ayeyarwady River, what Rudyard Kipling called the "road" to Mandalay. Or the gold-leaf pagodas, fantasy palaces and Victorian mansions.

On the most basic level, anyone looking for outdoor living ideas can be inspired by the 500 photographs in this soft-bound book. But the essays by experts who share author credits tell the compelling story of this once-cosmopolitan country and its rich architectural legacy, craftsmanship and mythic-like structures such as the Shwedagon Pagoda. One of its stupas is adorned with 4,000 jewels and a 76-carat diamond.

Several chapters are dedicated to Burmese design skills. The British, who ruled from 1824 to 1948 (a young George Orwell once patrolled its city streets), hired local craftsmen to build Victorians with cupolas, pediment windows and fluted molding out of teak, bamboo and stucco.

The Burmese have also long been known for their graceful use of gold and silver and stylized ceramics and lacquerware. A 2,000-year-old Buddhist tradition influences not only grandiose religious structures but also the simple lines in homes.

The country's sun-centered design style is close to Southern Californian hearts: minimal, light-filled homes that emphasize outdoor-indoor living. Designers will appreciate the accuracy of this book. It may inspire them to find a way to support Burmese craftsmen.

-- Janet Eastman

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