Imran is working to complete his first book manuscript, expanded from his dissertation (2009), which looks at cross-cultural interactions in the formation and development of urban vernacular architectural traditions and the indigenous/endogenous dimensions of urban form in maritime Southeast Asia’s multicultural cities. It examines their translations across the architectural/cultural categories of the vernacular, Indic, Islamic, and colonial, focusing on developments since the eighteenth century in comparison with earlier formative examples.
Existing documentation and analyses of urban architectural history in Southeast Asia do not adequately address the complex amalgams at their foundational, historical level, due to the limitations on scope and emphasis imposed by each of the disciplinary categories of architecture mentioned above. Thus, the study of the indigenous in the ‘colonial city’ usually focuses on only one particular form of the kampung that concerned colonial municipalities, namely the squatter settlement, and neglects the continued development of historical indigenous urban neighbourhoods and their architectural cultures—this reductive gloss on the very term ‘kampung/campong/compound’ overlooks the fact that these terms lie at the heart of a series of multicultural translations in architecture and urban form. Similarly, discussion on the “Southeast Asian mosque” is predicated upon a single-prototype image based on a small selection of fifteenth-century Javanese and related examples, without any systematic study of regional varieties and their historical interconnections and emergence, and smaller mosques from the eighteenth century onwards; there is also much confusion on how ‘type’ operates in relation to cross-cultural translations when construction involves multi-ethnic collaboration. A rapprochement is needed between methods and approaches suggested by different disciplines: anthropology (and the rural vernacular), archaeology and specialised geographical-linguistic and historical studies (the Indic, the Islamic), art historical analyses (colonial), and historical geography and urban morphology (urbanism). The position of maritime Southeast Asia within these different scholarly domains complicates the matter further, since the same artefact category from the region is perceived differently in accordance with disciplinary emphases and limits.
The architectural translations in the urban house forms, mosques, and old neighbourhoods that are examined involve the reworking of traditions at both conceptual and physical levels. These processes are expressed in structural configuration, formal-spatial vocabulary, and in their hybrid or multiply translated nomenclature; some of these have already been forgotten, obscured by later changes, or reinterpreted in light of more recent cultural transformations and political-economic contingencies, including tourism promotion and cultural identity posturing.
Imran’s current month-long research stay at the IIAS focuses on this last point, through the study of the emergence of urban histories or city biographies from Melaka, Singapore, Palembang, Jakarta, Semarang, and Makassar in a cluster of works from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1950s. This period comes before key changes took place with the formulation of ‘national culture’ projects in the respective national domains. The texts are studied for their treatment of the indigenous and multicultural aspects of the (colonial) cities. Narratives produced by ordinary citizens are compared with those published by municipal or state agencies. Guides to old landmarks in colonial cities were sometimes occasioned by historical milestones, such as centenaries. Such texts inform us about nascent ideas on 'urban history' in Southeast Asia and their imbrication with European imperialism, the indigenous responses to the colonial condition, and various phases in the post-independence construction of identities. This portion of Imran’s study takes the 1980s as the terminal point, when the idea of urban heritage advocacy was crystalised with the formation of local and national heritage societies.
Previous research topic at IIAS (2010 - 2011): Mosques as colonial heritage in the former Netherlands East Indies, c.1750-1940