Than Than Aye: Conserving at Wat Chaiwatthanaram
In this blog post, we profile engineer preservationist Than Than Aye and her work at Wat Chaiwatthanaram.
In June 2017, Burmese engineer Than Than Aye, or “Peach,” completed her second mission to Wat Chaiwatthanaram. This time, she was joined and assisted by engineer Thandar Phyo. Both are part of the young crop of new, high-flying preservation professionals being trained by World Monuments Fund in Southeast Asia through staff exchanges between projects at the great Angkor in Cambodia; Shwe-nandaw Kyaung in Mandalay, Myanmar; First Baptist Church of Mawlamyine in Myanmar; and of course, beautiful Wat Chaiwatthanaram, Ayutthaya, Thailand.
Than Than Aye began her work with WMF in 2015, training at the gorgeous teak wood monastery of Shwe-nandaw Kyaung in her hometown, using laser modeling imagery to draw details of the ornamental partition wall and producing condition assessments of the structure’s five staircases. This training at Shwe-nandaw set the stage for her current responsibilities for Wat Chaiwatthanaram.
Now, Than Than Aye is mapping conditions at Wat Chaiwatthanaram’s “slender merus,” eight conical masonry structures that surround the massive central tower, so that comprehensive records of conservation activities exist for the Fine Arts Department of Thailand. The ultimate documentation goal is to have three sets of drawings completed for each structure. Each meru gets the same level of attention, which means Than Than Aye has her work cut out for her.
One of Than Than Aye’s greatest assets is her ability to focus on the details without losing sight of schedule—an important capacity when there are eight merus to cover. She can spend hours recording the details of stucco conditions, then inputting those details into two-dimensional mechanical drawings in a way that permits the eye to read them three-dimensionally. It’s a gift of combining meticulous mechanical recording with an artistic sense of illustration.
As the three sets of documentation drawings are nearing completion for Meru C3, Than Than Aye is also moving forward with Meru C4 and its connected gallery of dismembered Buddha image statuary. The initial set of architectural drawings provided by the University of Florida’s Envision Heritage program, gleaned from the Wat Chaiwatthanaram laser scan model, are being corrected and detailed on site. Conditions are then mapped with pens, pencils and smartphones from stucco micro-cracking to surface erosion to concentrations of bird droppings, an unkind gift from our noisy feathered neighbors that decay brickwork. Than Than Aye’s work supports the project to understand how and where best to intervene.
When we are done with conservation, she diligently marks where stucco has been repaired, grouting has been injected and bricks have been replaced. Sure, this work is time-consuming, but it all provides a valuable record for Wat Chaiwatthanaram’s future management and preservation.