Design Destination: Myanmar with Jamie Bush and Zak Profera

Rarely do we get to interview two of the most inspiring creatives in our industry about a shared

experience around the world. Thanks to Jamie Bush, founder of Jamie Bush + Co., and

Zak Profera, founder and creative director of Zak+Fox, we get to see Myanmar,

formerly Burma, through their lens. 

A moment of serenity

What inspired the trip to Myanmar?

PROFERA: I traveled to Cambodia and Laos the year prior and wanted something a bit more challenging for this trip. I loved both countries but really appreciated (and craved) more of the rural aspects in Laos. I was told that Myanmar was even more off the beaten pathless refined and far more rugged overall.

BUSH: Zak and I both are obsessed with the Far East and love adventure travel. It was Zak’s idea and all his doing. I told him I would go if I didn’t have to do anything, so he took care of all the details and I just showed up! 

How would you describe the overall essence of the people and the country?

PROFERA: The people were incredibly welcoming. Those in the most rural parts of the country were just as warm as those in the thick of cosmopolitan Yangon. Everyone seemed to feel a tremendous sense of pride in their culture and was happy to share it.

BUSH: The people are a little shy but lovely and gracious. We had a guide named Min Min who was full of life, always happy and smiling. He took us to remote areas where we met and ate with locals and always felt welcome.

Pops of color in Bagan

 

The architecture is epic and historic. As students of design and architecture, share something you learned.

PROFERA: Everyone needs to try to see the ancient city of Bagan before it totally collapses or is overrun with tourism. It is slowly crumbling and the occasional earthquake is not helping the preservation efforts. Jamie and I spent our days there on electric bikes and got lost amidst the two-thousand-plus temples and untamed dirt roads. I would also wake up every morning and go for a run through the temples and the villages as the sun was rising. My running shoes are still filthy with Bagan dirt and I refuse to clean them up. It’s a happy reminder!

BUSH: The temples in Myanmar, and in Bagan in particular, are incredibly diverse for their size, scale, and form. Some are simple stupas [mound-like structures containing relics], while others are imposing and highly ornate temples, all built out of simple brick. Originally they were covered in white plaster, which wore away over time. However, the builders created engineering feats and produced highly fluid decora tion using the modest brick as their medium.

Ornate temples built of brick

 

Was there a specific artisan or indigenous craft that captivated you while there?

PROFERA: On Inle Lake, we visited a weaving mill that used silk and lotus fibers, which I had never seen before. The fiber from the plant is extremely delicate and creating the yarn is a laborious process, which is all done by hand. The result, though, yields one of the most exquisite (and expensive) fabrics I’ve ever seen. 

BUSH: On Inle Lake they are known not only for their silk production, but also for weaving fine textiles out of lotus silk. A single scarf could take weeks of harvesting the delicate threads to create an unbelievably supple textile, which is quite expensive even in this remote location.

The Nyaung Shwe Market

How did this trip influence your design aesthetic or approach?

PROFERA: It was a simple reminder: Slow. It. Down. 

BUSH: This trip reinforced my belief in making things out of simple, natural materials that last and age better over time.

What is your standout memory from the trip?

PROFERA: Nothing can compete with a hot air balloon ride at sunrise over Bagan. Sounds gimmicky and easy to roll your eyes at if you are a seasoned traveler, but even the most jaded person will melt at the sight of the golden light rising over the temples.

Hot air balloons in Bagan

BUSH: One day Zak and I were riding motorbikes on a dirt road around Bagan and as the day was getting late, the sun was setting and we kept wiping out and getting stuck in the sand. I had a vision of us abandoning the bikes and taking shelter in an ancient temple overnight, hoping not to get bitten by some venomous spider or robbed by local bandits. 

MYANMAR FAVORITES

Hotel: The Governor’s Residence, Yangon

Restaurant: (Zak) Green Elephant, Yangon; (Jamie) Myaya Da Nar, Bagan

Bar: (Jamie) We had a drink before arriving in Myanmar at the Armani Hotel in the Burj Khalifa in Dubai

Market: Nyaung Shwe Market 

 

 

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