NAX Report 03/18: The Joys of Building in 95 per cent Humidity

The Joys of Building in 95 per cent Humidity

Oliver Gerhartz

In 2015, the consortium of OLIVER GERHARTZ Architektur and TSSB architekten.ingenieure were commissioned by the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin to refurbish and add to the listed 1920s villa of the Goethe Institute in Yangon, Myanmar. During the construction process, the architects and engineers faced climatic challenges as well as supply shortages of essential building materials.

NAXNAX Netzwerk Architekturexport: Mr. Gerhartz, how did you get the commission for the Goethe Institut? Did you already have an experience in Myanmar or have you already had other projects for Goethe Institut?

Gerhartz: The joint venture OLIVER GERHARTZ Architektur and TSSB architekten.ingenieure were commissioned with the refurbishment of the listed Villa and construction of the New buildings as a Lead Planner in the course of a tendering procedure through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin. The historical Villa from the 1920s accommodates the classrooms and part of the administration. For the housing of the library, the auditorium and further office space, a new building was constructed in accordance with the latest requirements. Furthermore, a Café and a house for the caretaker with areas for the building services were also constructed. For the planners, this was the first Goethe Institut, however, experience in building abroad was already present. Part of the German Embassy in Ankara was refurbished by the joint venture OG/TSSB.


Oliver Gerhartz

NAX: How did you tackle this project when it comes to the organization and logistics? Did you coordinate most of it from Germany or did you have an office and local staff on site?

Gerhartz: After a thorough survey and an in-depth definition of the task at hand, everything up to the Developed Design was to 100% worked from Germany. The whole Design team as well as the client are based in Germany. Local registered architects were involved in the Planning Application process. Since it was decided relatively early that main contractor services will be performed by local contractors (with the exception of the roofing works), the companies, which were considered, were brought on board and involved in the design process. The goal was to establish and choose materials and construction methods that are locally known and available and to keep the import as low as possible. The specification and the contract were prepared in Berlin in collaboration with a consultant from London. After a detailed assessment of the local companies and their capacity, a limited procurement procedure following the VOB was carried out by the Foreign Ministry. There were two architects and one M&E engineer as site supervisors permanently on site during construction. Due to the limited capacity and the poor training of the local engineers and workers, it often happened that the site supervisors had to take the role of construction supervisors and even craftsmen and took the trowel in their own hands.

Oliver Gerhartz

NAX: What was your experience, working in Myanmar? How does it differ from planning and building in Germany?

Gerhartz: One needs to orientate themselves to the local circumstances during planning. As previously mentioned, that included essentially the limited technical possibilities (lack of material, tools and knowledge) and the climate conditions. The temperature during the 5 months rainy season was around 35°C with a humidity of up to 95%. The engineers of the local main contractors (both M&E and building construction), who were our main points of contact, did not have any experience working with foreign planners and clients and mostly have never been outside Myanmar. So the design team had to deal with a whole different framework from what is known in Germany. The planning and the building processes, however, were characterized with mutual respect in every situation, calm relationship and mostly by how much can be learned from one another. Because of the economy of shortage and the often limited abilities of the contractor, the local construction methods became a standard. Nevertheless, the bar for the quality of the project was set very high. Many solutions regarding the details were developed together on site and through a vigorous communication with the office in Berlin. The participating companies were very ambitious and strove to fulfil the set requirements.

Oliver Gerhartz

NAX: What is the difference in working for a German client in comparison to a client from Myanmar?

Gerhartz: The work for a public client abroad is of course very different to planning in German-speaking countries, because the requirements of the building standards are quite high. One needs to imagine that amongst other things the planning frameworks for the project were the Building Code of NRW, for earthquake – EUROCODE 8 and so on. That means that the critical points needed to be defined and the  deviations and compensatory measures needed to be agreed. The colleagues from Goethe Institut and the German Embassy in Yangon were a great help, especially when it came to set up locally. The planners have not been involved with a Burmese client so far.

Oliver Gerhartz

NAX: What challenges and hurdles did you face in the project?

Gerhartz: The climate, especially during the rain period was a great challenge. The works couldn’t be executed as planned due to the quite heavy rainfall. The drying time for the concrete, for example was significantly longer than in Germany and that had to be taken into account by scheduling the subsequent trades and works. The communication was lead in English, which was spoken by few of our engineers. Often all parties involved communicated by sketching and drawings, especially when the language barrier was too high. Delivery of materials was also quite slow because of the unstable local market. Products that were available one day were suddenly not available on the next. Some of the products could be supplied in the required quantities and quality only by import from Thailand or other countries. The delivery time was often three to six months. The biggest challenge was of course the lack of training, tools, technical capabilities and so on. That lead to simplification and adaptation of the planning to the local capacity despite the early participation of the local companies during the design stage. The project was completed after one and a half years planning stage and one and a half years construction period on time and in budget in accordance with the Developed Design.

NAX: Thank you for these interesting insights into the construction process and congratulations on the successful completion of this project!

More information on this project can be found here (German only).

Top of page