Modern and vernacular architecture of Indonesia as the subject of exhibitions:
Hybrid architecture in Pasar Gambir of Batavia, at the Paris Colonial Exhibition of 1931 and
in Park Taman Mini Indonesia Indah
In the early 17th century, the Dutch East India Company gained supremacy over the archipelago with its main islands of Sumatra, Java, Borneo and Sulawesi. In 1800, the Dutch government took over the administration of the entire territory, which was organised as a colony and developed into an important base for global trade relations. At the beginning of the twentieth century, signs of social and cultural change multiplied in the Dutch Indies, especially in Jakarta, the former headquarters of the Company. These include the spread of new technologies, the emergence of a consumer society and the expansion of the middle class, as well as a new category of architectural artefacts.
Until the beginning of the 1920s, the colonial power’s building projects developed completely independently of the numerous, locally very different building traditions of the sprawling archipelago. In the last phase of Dutch colonial rule, however, there is a reassessment of regional architectural legacies and traditions. Within the framework of two important colonial exhibitions, sacred and profane building forms of the Indonesian archipelago are being recorded and inventoried for the first time. The temporary exhibition buildings cite this local building knowledge. They are all eclectic reconfigurations that emerge from stylistic elements of the most diverse provenance.
Architecture in the context of modern colonial exhibitions, according to the thesis of this dissertation, enables visitors to try out different social and cultural patterns of behaviour and to perceive the exhibitions in relation to their own ideas of modernity. Furthermore, the colonial exhibitions are a political medium in the course of Indonesia’s path to independence. The structural artefacts relevant to this are hybrid structures. Their complex interplay of forms, their constructive textures, their modes of use and their histories of reception can be interpreted as part of a process of communication and negotiation. In a framework provided for the purpose of exchange, exhibited architecture becomes an integral part of the nation buildings. By means of the conception, construction and use of hybrid architectures, it becomes possible to redefine the relationship between colonial power and colony.
The starting point and first noticeable sign of this development is the very popular exhibition Pasar Gambir, which was held annually in Batavia in the 1920s and 1930s. The clearly defined spatial and temporal framework of the exhibitions resembles a social laboratory of modernity in which visitors were given the opportunity to try out new forms of social interaction. As objects of mediation, the hybrid exhibition buildings referred to different vernacular traditions and became harbingers of the progressive modernisation of the Dutch colony by equipping them with advertising boards and lighting systems.
Following on from the structural experiments of Pasar Gambir’s annual exhibitions, the dissertation treats the Exposition coloniale, which took place in 1931 in the Bois de Vincennes in Paris, to an in-depth analysis. The Dutch pavilion at the International Colonial Exhibition is not only imposing in appearance. The temporary building also established a new dimension of symbolic interaction between the Dutch colonial power and the autochthonous culture of the territory it ruled. Here, too, the authors quoted from an architectural store of signs. As an architectural collage, the colonial power paid tribute with its pavilion to the inventory of significant monumental buildings of the Dutch Indies, especially the Balinese part of the archipelago.
After gaining independence and the founding of the Indonesian state, there was a further development of hybrid architecture. This stage of development culminated in the modern, ethnographic open-air museum Taman Mini Indonesia Indah. The creation of the park was staged as an identity-building measure and was one of the outstanding prestige projects of the young nation. After a long planning and realisation phase, the park was opened to the public in 1975. On a vast terrain on the outskirts of Jakarta, the nation’s territorial and cultural connections were displayed. This was done, on the one hand, through the miniaturised, landscape-architectural representation of the archipelago and, on the other hand, through the reproduction of traditional, vernacular buildings on an enlarged scale. By creating a ring-shaped course, the multitude of local building traditions and lifeworlds were symbolically linked to form a national unity.
The study of hybrid architectures, created as temporary artefacts in the context of three major exhibitions, allows us to understand the architectural contribution on Indonesia’s path to independence. In contrast to everyday situations, the three exhibitions are social, cultural and structural experiments in interaction. In them, the relationship between tradition and modernity; between colonial power and colony; between the profane and the monumental is renegotiated in each case. The three focal points of the present study denote stages of a dynamic interaction between the field of the political and architecture. The close observation of hybrid structural artefacts, their composition, their use and their political function in the context of popular exhibitions makes it possible to look in a new and nuanced way at a sixty-year process of development, from the last phase of colonisation to Indonesia’s state independence.