Figures in the Landscape: Examining the Architectural Impact of Indonesia’s Volcanic Geography

Research project “17 Volcanoes” explores the implications of tourism and its relationship to urban development through a historic lens.

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“A major challenge in the area of tourism and urbanization is the object of touristic experience … ”

As an industry, tourism plays an influential role in the shaping of our environments. While landscapes evolve to accommodate their inhabitants, they also function as objects of fascination, where architecture functions as a key agent in the cultivation of touristic landmarks. An ongoing research project entitled “17 Volcanoes” explores the implications of tourism and its relationship to urban development through a historic lens.

Franz Junghuhn: Gunung Merapi, Lithograph after a drawing by Franz Junghuhn; image: Java-Album (Leipzig, Arnoldische Buchhandlung, 1856); image via Future Cities Laboratory

Spearheaded by Dr. Philip Ursprung and Dr. Alex Lehnerer, two professors at ETH (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule) Zürich, the project investigates the urbanization of the Indonesian island of Java, particularly through an examination of the island’s volcanic geography. Following the travel documents of 19th-century German-Dutch traveler Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn, Ursprung and Lehnerer have formulated an exhibition examining “volcanoes as figures in the landscape of Java, as politically, economically and culturally charged objects whose ambiguous existence makes them particularly interesting for architectural scrutiny.”

The work was exhibited at ETH Zurich’s architecture gallery gta and just wrapped up showings at the CCA in Montreal and at Princeton University. In the above interview, conducted by urbanNext at the Europa Europa series, Philip Ursprung discusses the aims of the project, which is currently being facilitated through ETH Zurich’s Future Cities Laboratory.

The exhibition includes photographs by Armin Linke and Bas Princen.

Featured in the exhibition are contemporary photographs taken by photographers Armin Linke and Bas Princen, who traced Junghuhn’s footsteps to some of his most beloved volcanoes. These works foster a connection between Junghuhn’s own writing and illustrations of the Java, “allowing them to interweave historical and contemporary narratives of Indonesia.”

The ongoing research project, which will continue to involve a number of artists, architects and historians, will attempt to uncover the architecture’s response to the enduring relationship between geographies, cultural heritage and political and social history.

Installation shot of the “17 Volcanoes” exhibition at gta, ETH Zurich

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