This special collection explores how travel, as a collective and individual practice, has been implicated in diverse architectural cultures across a wide range of periods and geographies. Its underlying premise is that travel acts as a powerful force in shaping the perception of the modern world, and plays an ever growing and complex role within architectural and urban cultures. This has been recognised by several architectural scholars over the past decade who have addressed, to varying extents, the historical dimension of travel (see, for instance, Traganou and Mitrašinoviċ 2009; Lasansky and McLaren 2004). ‘Travel’ is admittedly a broad and diverse subject, and one whose various engagements with architectural history cannot be treated thoroughly within a single journal issue. Bearing this caveat in mind, we took up the challenge of compiling a collection that, rather than claiming completeness, aims instead to explore some of the current strands in architectural research that consider this theme from different historical and critical perspectives.

We cast the net purposely wide with an open call for papers (published in October 2014), which invited contributions dealing with different places and periods. Our intent was to probe what current research on travel — its practices, narratives, and representations — can reveal about different architectural histories. We also posed a series of more specific questions: for instance, about the changing role of the journey in the formation of the architect, and the ways in which architecture has been historically operative in the formation of tourist attractions and itineraries. The enthusiastic response we received (with over fifty paper proposals) testifies to the lively interest in the subject among scholars. At the same time, the range of proposals reflected a spectrum of interpretations in today’s architectural historiography, of which the papers published in this issue are a limited yet indicative sample.

The collection examines a variety of travel practices that are historically related to the design, perception, and representation of the built environment. There are three main thematic strands that run through the issue: 1) the architect’s journey and its influence on design education, practice, and culture; 2) the representations of buildings and landscapes produced by and for travellers operating outside the architectural profession; and 3) the role of architecture and its heritage in relation to modern tourist itineraries. By unpacking these sub-themes, we hope to turn travel into a useful and productive category that will shed light on specific cultural phenomena that have a bearing on architecture, its procedures, and its representations.

Architect’s Journey: Education, Practice, Culture

I have read your article on Mount Analogue. Until now I had believed myself the only person convinced of its existence. Today there are two of us, tomorrow there will be ten, perhaps more, and we can attempt the expedition. (Daumal 1952: 3)

Then there is a third adventure of reading … that of Writing; reading is a conductor of the Desire to write … not that we necessarily wanted to write like the author we enjoy reading. (Barthes 1989: 40–41)

Travel has long been a part of the architect’s formation. In modern times, the architect’s journey drew on the tradition of the Grand Tour, a practice that was not invented by architects; in the 17th- and 18th-centuries scores of young British gentlemen with diverse interests almost obligatorily travelled abroad as part of their upbringing and for gaining erudition (see Turan Özkaya (2014) for more on travel, museums, and classical Bildung). Yet the ritual of exploratory travel and the ensuing informal training based on direct engagement with places, artifacts, and objects were readily embraced by architects, including none other than John Soane, arguably the most celebrated British architect at the turn of the 19th century. From his tour of Italy in the 1770s, as argued by Gillian Darley, the young ‘Soane would come home with firsthand knowledge of the great monuments of classical antiquity as well as the social polish with which to cultivate contacts, and thus patrons’ (Darley 2008: 21). For Soane, who turned the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli ‘into a leitmotif for his entire career’ (Darley 2008: 23) and his house into an antiquarian’s ‘cabinet’, exposure to the buildings of classical antiquity was imperative. Along those lines, over time, it has become fundamental for aspiring architects to visit historically significant places to gain a firsthand experience of architecture.

With the expansion of the Grand Tour’s geographical reach from Italy to the Ottoman lands, Greece, and the Middle East, its scope and nature changed. The Prussian Karl Friedrich Schinkel travelled to Italy but later also to England and France. Robert Smirke, the architect of the British Museum, did not limit his four-year tour to Italy but wandered through Morea, sometimes allegedly on foot rather than horseback (Crook 1973: 74). A young Swiss draftsman from the Berlin office of Peter Behrens, Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, travelled with his friend August Klipstein ‘to the East’ in 1911, reaching as far as Constantinople. Adolf Loos went to America at the age of twenty-three, while Louis Kahn sojourned in Italy when he neared fifty. Jørn Utzon travelled to Mexico but also, among all the other places, to China. By the time Italian Marcello Piacentini toured through Germany in 1930 and 1931, the original geography of the architectural Grand Tour had been radically altered and even reversed.

Since the time of the itinerant medieval builders and early modern architects on the prowl for patrons from different European cities, travel has also been an integral part of the architect’s profession — and all the more so in today’s closely connected world. And yet, despite the value of travel to architectural Bildung and practice, the complex relationship between architectural work and travel experience has not been sufficiently probed by historians. The present collection prompts us to rethink this relationship, while disclosing both the details of particular journeys that were hitherto largely unknown and their impact on architectural and artistic works.

In his essay ‘China Receives Utzon: The Role of Jørn Utzon’s 1958 Study Trip to China in His Architectural Maturity’, Chen-Yu Chiu sheds light on the architect’s much-cited yet under-researched trip to China. Among other things, the author cogently argues for analogies between dynastic Chinese built forms, traditional construction practices, and Utzon’s work: not only the Sydney Opera House (1958–66) but also some lesser known works such as Bagsværd Church (1968–76) and the National Assembly of Kuwait (1972–84). Laura Martínez de Guereñu, on the other hand, in ‘Bauhausler on the Franco-Spanish Border’, adds a previously unknown chapter to the history of the Bauhaus and tracks down the traces of a summer spent in the Basque country on the work of the Bauhausler Josef and Anni Albers, Vassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee. In a similar vein, in ‘Grand Tour in Reverse: Marcello Piacentini’s Tour of Germany in 1930 and 1931’, Christine Beese detects in Piacentini’s work, particularly in his project for Piazza della Vittoria in Brescia (1928–32), design strategies and individual motives that the architect had been exposed to during his little-known trip to Germany. Such unambiguous allusions to architectural forms, motives, strategies, spaces, and practices experienced while travelling are shown to be consequences of the architect’s journey.

From Stylianos Giamarelos’s essay, ‘Intersecting Itineraries Beyond the Strada Novissima: The Converging Authorship of Critical Regionalism’, however, we learn that for the Greek architects Suzana and Dimitris Antonakakis the journey to the Venice Biennale, in 1980, operated more like a reinforcement of their existing ‘architectural sensibility’ than an internalization and re-enactment of what they had newly encountered. We are reminded here of Mark Wigley’s argument that, ‘As always, the architect’s journey is not a journey of discovery but of confirmation, a rehearsal or a repetition of something that is already in place’ (Wigley 2011: 233). In his anatomizing of the intertwinement of the ‘local’ with the ‘foreign’ in travel and architecture, Wigley also takes issue with a sequential model that would establish a causal relationship between the architect’s journey and the ensuing architectural work. Instead, he sees the actual journey as a retroactive confirmation of what has already been developed without even departing. Wigley’s example for his argument is, incidentally, Jørn Utzon, about whom he writes: ‘Utzon constantly read about China and the possibility of travel there, and the kinds of lessons one would learn on such a journey were being endlessly imagined by him’ (Wigley 2011: 243; our emphasis). What Chen-Yu Chiu does in the first part of his essay is to draw a comprehensive picture of the means and tools of these ‘imaginary travels’. The young Utzon may have encountered ‘many kinds of things’ about China before even setting foot there, including myriad books, a two-meter-long model of a palace building from the Qing Dynasty, the 1919 edition of the Yingzao fashi (the book of Chinese state building standards), decorated roof tiles, statues of deities and noble women, ceremonial objects, paintings, and masks, among others.

Travel as a confirmation of the architect’s existing ideas, rather than as a facilitator of new explorations, is problematic for Wigley. Yet, read against the grain, Wigley’s brilliant formulation about what might be called ‘pre-posterous travel’1 (a journey without actual departure) points to the complicated nature of architectural design as an inspirational process. While it is difficult to trace the cognitive operations that lead to architectural design, it is not a one-way, straightforward process, that may be set into motion by ‘pre-posterous’, imaginary, or virtual travels as much as actual ones. Like the protagonists of René Daumal’s novel Mount Analogue, architects may embark on journeys to imaginary places en route to their eventual destination — the architectural work itself. Rather than demanding precise, causal relations between architects’ journeys and their work, it may be more productive to envisage design as a complex process shaped by multiple unlikely and ‘un-timely’ factors, including ‘pre-posterous’ travel. Roland Barthes’ characterization of reading might be, mutatis mutandis, applied to the architect’s journey (Barthes 1989):

travel is a conductor of the Desire to design … not that the architect necessarily wants to design like what she or he enjoys seeing on the journey.

This is not to say that travel cannot operate as a means for architectural knowledge production. The idea that mobility could be the catalyst for production of knowledge constitutes the crux of Jessica Harris’s essay, ‘On the Buses: Mobile Architecture in Australia and the UK, 1973–75’. Harris, through a comparative analysis of the AD/AA/Polyark bus, the outcome of the collaboration between Architectural Design, the Architectural Association, and Cedric Price, with the much less known travel experiments of students from the University of Queensland and Sydney, takes us back to the 1970s, when travel was perceived as a means of exploration for alternative, participatory ways of teaching, practising, and disseminating architecture.

Along those lines, Kay Bea Jones had already underlined the importance of ‘experiential learning’ and ‘travel pedagogy’, which she defines as ‘experientially centered studies dependent on some cultural and geographic shift that radically alters sense perception and challenges visual and spatial cognition’ (Jones 2001: 127). For her the shock and sharpening of the senses that comes with cultural and geographic displacement may be used by the traveller to cultivate self-constructed knowledge about the sites visited that are regarded as ‘habitable places with variable interpretations belonging to the onlooker’ (Jones 2001: 134) rather than iconic sites with solidified meanings. The emphasis on ‘self-constructed knowledge’ paves the way for a critique of earlier exclusive forms of travel based on the idea of emulating the object lessons of culturally prized sites and masters along a largely predetermined itinerary.

Narratives and Representations

The journeys undertaken by architects, either as part of their early formations or during their lifelong careers, do not exhaust the broad range of relationships between travel practices and architectural histories. For the relevance of travel to architecture cannot be limited to the architects’ own movements any more than architecture itself can be reduced to what design professionals do. With this in mind, several essays in this collection reflect on the role of other influential travellers whose accounts of places and landscapes have contributed to shape architectural knowledge. A two-way traffic seems to characterize the relationship between architecture and travel in its varied manifestations. Whilst, on the one hand, travel practices are embedded in the constant transformation of places and landscapes through transport infrastructures, on the other hand, architecture in turn is symbolically constructed through the visual and textual narratives produced by travellers. With respect to the built environment, travel is an engine of representation as much as a spatial practice.

It is worth recalling here that the preeminence of vision in the cultures of travel is a distinctly modern phenomenon, one that has evidently had a lasting impact on the perception of architecture across time and space. The word sightseeing itself encapsulates the major shift that occurred in Europe, between the late 16th and 17th centuries, when ‘the isolated exercise and cultivation of the sense of sight’ (Adler 1989: 8) became central to the production and reproduction of knowledge attained by travellers. The pursuit of sights replaced what until the Renaissance was a primarily discursive interaction between travellers and places. Whilst the tradition of the Grand Tour included non-visual experiences, such as music, it mainly revolved around the visual contemplation of sights and works of art, as well as the collection of pictorial vedute. This quintessentially upper-class practice waned in the mid-19th century, when Thomas Cook lay the foundations of mass tourism. With the advent of photography, travel became bound up with the formation of new kinds of imaginaries: private records and recollections often mingled with official, stereotyped views, as the value of architecture increasingly rested on the mechanical reproduction of its images. The written text remained, however, a crucial vehicle for the depiction of faraway places.

A powerful use of literature can be found in the orientalist accounts of the Muslim world recorded by western travellers. This subject, which has nourished a rich field of cultural and postcolonial studies, in recent years has been at the centre of growing interest within architectural and urban studies (Gharipour and Özlü 2015). Ümit Fırat Acıkgöz’s paper in this collection, ‘À La Recherche de l’Espace Perdue: Architecture, Urban Fabric, and French Travelers to Antioch (1784–1939)’, offers a sample of cross-historical research that, while focusing on a single city, draws wider reflections about the cultural perceptions of the ‘Orient’ recorded by selected French travellers. Their written accounts, spanning from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries, vividly illustrate the Enlightenment idea that travelling to foreign lands was instrumental to gaining a modern education to the world. The orientalist mindset that led several Frenchmen to praise the relics of ancient Greco-Roman civilizations in late-Ottoman Syria, whose state of ‘despotism’ and ‘decadence’ they systematically decried, fed into the wider master narrative of European superiority. Whilst the modes and cultures of travel evolved throughout the ‘long 19th century’, as European writers often ventured to the Near East to escape the industrial cities of their native countries, the persisting cultural tropes of many of their accounts reaffirmed a colonial attitude that, after the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire, was promptly converted into geopolitical gains.

The age of the camera provided a formidable medium for depicting ‘oriental’ architecture for the benefit of a western worldview. Elvan Cobb’s paper, ‘Learning Vicariously: Tourism, Orientalism and the Making of an Architectural Photography Collection of Egypt’, gives insights into the formation of a particular collection that was assembled by Andrew Dickson White, the first president of Cornell University, during his travels to Egypt in the late 19th century. The body of architectural photographs that was initially gathered by a cultured American traveller, while on holiday or on diplomatic missions, subsequently became an important educational tool that shaped the ways in which generations of university students visualized the historic architecture of the ‘Orient’. Besides expanding our understanding of how the historical knowledge of architecture is often produced by actors who operate outside the discipline, Cobb’s study also highlights the combined effects of leisure travel and amateur photography that emerged at a critical juncture.

The vicarious forms of travel that were aided and abetted by photography were by no means confined to the East. For a long time a favorite destination of grand tourists, Rome was reportedly the most photographed city of the 19th century and provided the subject of innumerable published accounts and travel guidebooks. As Douglas Mark Klahr discusses in his essay, ‘Traveling via Rome through the Stereoscope: Reality, Memory and Virtual Travel’, at the turn of the 20th century the tourist literature incorporated stereoscopic photography alongside maps and other conventional devices to orient the reader-cum-spectator through the città eterna. Its realistic power matched the level of sophistication of a technique which immersed the viewer in a virtual environment ante litteram. Such mediated forms of knowledge enabled new forms of ‘armchair [architectural] tourism’ that, whilst never replacing the act of physical displacement, contributed to broaden the realm of architectural representations through which tourist attractions were depicted — and, indeed, culturally coded as sights.

The 20th century marked the rise of the tourist guidebook amidst other forms of illustrated publications. Far from being a mere vademecum, the guidebook became a complex and multilayered genre in which the depiction of architecture was often imbued with political significance. This is manifest in the case of post-1960 Cyprus, which is investigated here by Georgia Daskalaki in her essay ‘“Aphrodite’s Realm”: The Representation of Tourist Landscapes in Postcolonial Cyprus as an Iconography of Nation-Building’. Travel narratives produced after independence from the British reveal a clear intent to inscribe the representation of landscapes in the wider construction of a new national identity. As in other countries that embraced a process of modernization at the end of colonial rule, the case of Cyprus indicates a close relationship between the iconography of tourist landscapes and the ideology of nation-building, with its loaded baggage of imaginative geographies.

Travel and Heritage

Travel and architectural heritage have been inextricably linked from the beginning of modernity. Different aspects of this relationship emerge from the texts in this collection. On the one hand, the transformation of tourism from individual practice to mass phenomenon determines the reconfiguration of cities, buildings, archaeological sites, and landscapes as travel destinations in close connection with their placement within a collective heritage. On the other hand, literatures and images of travel increasingly function as autonomous instruments for the construction of heritage values and imaginaries. The consequences of this are today visible to all, as architectural heritage ‘comes to us’ incessantly through the media without us having to travel to see it (Alcolea and Tárrago 2011: 18). Several essays in this collection investigate this vis-à-vis evolving ideologies and instruments of travel and heritage from stereo-photography to film.

We now are well aware that the process of heritage formation — well expressed by the French term patrimonialisation — is ideologically and politically charged. If travel narratives are to be read as part of a ‘political process’, heavily conditioned by ‘idioms of hegemony’ (del Marmol et al. 2016: 342–50), then the ‘discovery’ of the historical and memorial qualities of architecture appears as a complex issue producing conflicting sets of heritage definitions and values. The late-18th-century shift from the European Grand Tour to a politically charged Tour d’Orient is a crucial moment in this respect. From Gizeh to Palmyra, architecture has come to be defined by the contrast between the traveller’s educated gaze and the purported ‘eyes who do not see’ that belonged to local populations. The non-symmetrical situation, giving the architectural traveller the ‘better view’, finds an appropriate case in Acıkgöz’s aforementioned discussion of Antioch. Ghostly appearance of an ancient metropolis under a new town, Antioch was more imagined than seen. Its site was so dilapidated that even the familiar spectacle of ruins (Preti and Settis 2015) has been denied. ‘Nothing [is] visible’, observes Emile Le Camus: and yet, he adds, ‘underground, one or two meters below, there is everything’ (Le Camus 1890, Vol. 3: 34).

For each dream of lost glories, other kinds of architectural heritage have been recovered, redefined, and assembled. The construction of a national heritage expressly designed to fit into a predefined set of values is discussed in Kristin Marie Barry’s essay, ‘Buildings As Artifacts: Heritage, Patriotism, and the Constructed Landscape’, where we see self-appointed Northern European and American preservationists at work. From Skansen in Sweden to the Manitou Cliff and to Ford’s Greenfield Village, buildings are dissociated from their place of origin and transformed into mobile objects. By re-placing ‘historical’ architecture in artificial contexts purified of the visual pollution of modernity, isolated from the passing of time, and strategically placed to be visited by the general public, the capacity to convey ideas of identity and authenticity is paradoxically enhanced. Of course, these ideas are imbued with nostalgia for an ideal past, devoid of conflicts and contradictions. If the construction of national ideologies is at the root of this process, the developing industry of mass tourism is the economic force that makes these initiatives not only possible, but also replicable: in addition to Disney’s Main Street and the Los Angeles Pueblo (see Ghirardo 2001), the countless heritage zones of new China loom in the distance. The duty of the historian, Barry suggests, is not just to retrace the chain of events that produced these artificial landscapes but to investigate the strategies and actors behind their assemblage.

As heritage overtakes us (Koolhaas 2004) with increasingly controversial consequences, it is also overtaking the material and immaterial structures that have transformed modern travel. This includes roads, infrastructural nodes and architectural typologies that were essential to the evolution of mobility. Since tourist and travel facilities are increasingly becoming part of preservation listings and architects’ heritage tours (the Hotel Park, Barcelona, being a recent example; Englert 2015), writing their social and architectural history becomes a necessity. Daniel Roche’s seminal study of the topography, economy, and sociabilities of tourist reception in Paris over two centuries (Roche 2000) provides an example of how an analysis of the accueil of strangers and tourists may challenge consolidated views on the history of a city and of its mobile populations.

In keeping with these issues, the analysis of buildings and material structures connected to travel inform some of the articles in this collection. In her essay, ‘From Grand Tour to the Grand Hotel: The Birth of the Hospitality Industry in Tuscany’, Fabiana Susini takes us to the humble origins of the tourist inn on the roads leading to Florence — a building type born out of the postal system that provided the first backbone to organized travelling in Europe. Moving across the Adriatic, Melita Cavloviç discusses the qualities of a series of once elegant modernist motels, scenically placed on the rugged Croatian coastline, in her paper, ‘The Construction of the Imaginarium of the Adriatic Coast: A Case Study of Sljeme Motels’. The understanding of the spatial and positional qualities of these modern ruins now appears as urgent as it once was for the nearby Diocletian’s palace (Adam 1764).

With every new technological shift in modes of transportation, travel has redefined the idea of the landscape, consolidating it through specific imagery (Deriu and Kamvasinou 2012). In continental Europe, since the 18th century Alpine territories have provided an ideal laboratory for observing the relation between modes of travel, the production of the tourist landscape (Derossi 2014), and the development of heritage strategies. Similar issues emerge also from Georgia Daskalaki’s above-mentioned essay. The photographic sequences of the winding ascents to Cyprus’s mountain forests and hotels, or the rebranding of archeological sites with the emblems of gas corporations, are carefully placed within the strategies of identity and heritage construction of the fledgling Mediterranean nation-state which was trying to come to terms with the transformations generated by the post-war boom of international tourism.

Concluding Remarks

Having outlined three of the main strands that run through this collection, we wish to conclude with some general remarks. It would be impossible to single out any prevailing direction of research from the wide range of methods and sources deployed by the various authors. The heterogeneous scope of their contributions responds well to our initial desire to sample a variety of different approaches and to represent diverse geographies as well as historical periods. As regards the references to scholarly literature, it is interesting to observe that few common sources appear across the papers — among them stands out Edward Said, whose critique of Orientalism retains an enduring appeal for architectural historians. This having been said, the present collection suggests that current historical research into travel and architecture does not rely on an established canon but is rather informed by a myriad of sources that positively expand our discipline through multiple engagements with various ideas and discourses. So much so that travel may be pivotal in the development of architectural theories, such as ‘critical regionalism’, as much as radical experiments of mobility and architecture as shown by two remarkable essays in this collection.

There are nonetheless some recurring features in the collection. The popularity of the tourist guidebook as a historical source stands out in particular. This is further testimony that, from the mid-19th century onwards, travellers were guided less and less ‘par le livre’ (Moureau 1990: 6) and more and more ‘par la guide’. Amongst the contemporary figures mentioned in the essays, perhaps only Jørn Utzon, ‘a citizen of the world’ who was enchanted yet not overwhelmed by China, embodies the topos of the early modern cultured traveller. Utzon travelled with books, treatises, and a ‘total, yet structured, curiosity’ (Moureau 1990: 12). Far more typical is the attitude shown by Andrew Dickson White, who claimed an ‘unbiased observation’ of Egypt, and yet derived it from the highly selective experience of package tours along the Nile and the stereotypical descriptions of the Baedeker guidebooks. This figure epitomizes the wider shift from the tradition of the philosophical journey to the normalized types of travel which, catalyzed by the advent of photography as well as by mechanized transport, became increasingly widespread over the 20th century. As mass tourism moved towards a global practice, travel lost its distinctive character of inner exploration in favor of the pursuit of a collective identity (Leed 1991: 19–31). In the process, the perception of architecture was altered in ways that are still largely to be investigated.

Yet the most unifying trait amongst the papers is arguably to be found in the preoccupation for iconographic sources. The intersections between textual and visual narratives that characterize various guidebooks and travelogues examined in the collection remind us of the importance of considering words and images as interrelated aspects of printed sources in the writing of architectural histories (cf. the special collection in Architectural Histories, Building Word Image: Printing Architecture 1800–1950).2 Whilst by no means the only viable research method, the analysis of the image and its role in conveying the meanings of buildings, places, and landscapes, as shown by some essays in the collection, remains a distinctive aspect of architectural historiography with regard to travel cultures. In the same vein the collection as an ensemble provides a wide but not exhaustive panoply of diverse paths architectural historiography may take in relation to travel. Our hope is that in future these paths will lead to further research, and new ones will be opened — including, for instance, a gendered critique of architecture and travel practices.


  1. According to Oxford English Dictionary, ‘preposterous’ comes from mid-16th century Latin word praeposterus, which means ‘reversed, absurd’, prae meaning ‘before’, and posterus, ‘coming after’. Here we are using ‘pre-posterous’ in this sense of ‘reversed’. For a slightly different and very productive usage of the term, see Bal (1999). [^]
  2. See Victor Plahte Tschudi’s essay on Goethe’s ‘Printed Rome’, part of the Building Word Image special collection. [^]


We are deeply grateful to the contributors and reviewers for their enthusiastic involvement in our project and their meticulous work. We also would like to thank our fellow editors at Architectural Histories, and in particular Maarten Delbeke and Nele De Raedt for their guidance throughout the production process of this collection.

Competing Interests

The authors have no competing interests to declare.


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