Peek into the history of colonial built heritage

News - 16 February 2017 - Communication BK

The digital repository for colonial architecture and urban planning created by the Chair of History of Architecture & Urban Planning will soon be available for commercial use. Audiovisual tours will be used to make the wealth of information accessible to the public. The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) has provided a grant for this.

Before long tourists visiting Indonesia will be able to see and hear information via an app on their smartphone. They can listen to background stories via their headset, while looking at the photos and drawings that appear on their screen. “This audiovisual approach means the users are able to concentrate on their surroundings," says architectural historian Pauline van Roosmalen, who together with Cor Wagenaar is the driving force behind the repository. “Meanwhile they are taken along in the stories based on information from the repository for colonial architecture.”

The first pilot project funded by the NWO is focused on the work of architect and urbanism expert Herman Thomas Karsten (1884-1945). Karsten was an influential Dutch urban planner who designed many buildings in western and central Java and who was involved in urban planning throughout the Dutch East Indies. Many of the buildings and suburbs he designed exist to this day. The pilot project concentrates primarily on residential estates and office buildings in Semarang.

The Karsten pilot project is a result of the large-scale archiving work which the History research group has been involved in together with the TU Delft Library since 1 September 2011. The repository they built will eventually house a wealth of information on colonial architecture and urban planning from the period 1850-1970 from all the world's former European colonies. Right now it contains around 25,000 digitised photographs and 300,000 pages of text. The present accent is on material from the former Dutch East Indies. The archive functions as an online, open-access research environment and reference instrument for researchers, restoration architects and policymakers in the field of modern colonially built heritage. Linking the material to audiovisual tours makes the collection easily accessible to a wider public.

The software platform developed by IZITEQ on which the tours are offered is already used for audio tours for museums and city centres throughout Europe. A next step is to provide a link via an app to an academic database. The €15,000 NWO grant is helping the platform developer to explore the possibilities for linking the repository and the app, and also making it possible to surmount the technical obstacles involved in making the project commercially feasible.

The Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment is still looking for a smart solution to deal with the lack of architects' names for the buildings on many photographs. “Not having the name of the architect makes it difficult to link photographs to him,” explains Van Roosmalen. Research into automatic picture recognition which is being funded by the Volkswagen Foundation should help to solve this problem. This research is being led by Carola Hein.


The audiovisual tour focused on Herman Thomas Karsten should be ready for use in August 2017.