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TABULA SCRIPTA

The Tabula Scripta research group of the Amsterdam Academy of Architecture explores the condition of the ‘tabula scripta’, or the ‘written slate’. Most of our land is developed, designated, or in use. Resources have become scarce. As a result, the architect is forced to relate more to the existing conditions and to design on the basis of these conditions. The ideal of the ‘tabula rasa’, or creating from scratch, is no longer a viable option. The research investigates ways in which (landscape) architecture and urban design can and should relate to this condition of the tabula scripta. In this situation, contextual design is not a camouflage exercise, in which new additions need to fit in with the existing environment as well as possible. It is precisely because of new buildings, parks, squares and modern architecture, that a boost can be given to the existing context.

The Garden Which is the Nearest to God, Taturo Atzu

The architect will, therefore, need to view the existing context not as a limitation, but as an opportunity to make use of a latent potential with his or her designs, and thereby creating a new context.

Case study Dharavi, Mumbai

But how can the existing context be reinterpreted, understood, appreciated and further developed? How can the concern for heritage and new developments go hand in hand? And how can architecture use the existing layers of a place to anticipate on new developments, from the ageing population and social segregation to climate change? The Tabula Scripta research group seeks answers to these and other questions by means of an analysis of the ‘drivers of change’ of widely varying places and design practices in the Netherlands and abroad, from historic city centres to post-war suburbs and rural areas. The research consciously focuses not only on preservation through transformation of what is considered to be valuable. Dealing with unprotected and more recent generic heritage also falls under the study.

In addition to creating, the architect, urbanist and landscape architect will also need to be able to reflect and react. He or she will have to relate to the past and the present in order to be able to take a new and daring step into the future. Knowing that they change a condition that has already been changed many times and which will still change many times after our transformation. A form of permanent temporariness, or temporary permanence.

For the profession this confrontation with a multidimensional complexity means on the one hand that the individual specialisation of architecture, urbanism and landscape architecture have to be broadened in terms of scale and content, making a more interdisciplinary and non-disciplinary cooperation necessary. On the other hand, the specialisation themselves will also need to be deepened in terms of methodologies, techniques and craftsmanship in order to grasp this layered reality. The aim of the research project is to investigate both the broadening and deepening of the profession.

In the coming years the Tabula Scripta research group that consists of Floris Alkemade, Michiel van Iersel and Jarrik Ouburg, will further investigate a wide variety of case studies and practices that embody the layered condition of the tabula scripta, including the establishment of an international knowledge network and a publication that will be presented at the end of 2018. Various educational activities will also take place within the framework of the research group, including guest lectures, workshops and excursions.

 

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BIG IS BEAUTIFUL

Beauty shows itself to us when we don’t expect it. It grabs you by the throat.

Tokyo street

A city where you can expect anything but where you are hardly ever prepared for, is Tokyo. It is not the city itself but rather its urbanity, its scale and density that make of this city an inexhaustible source of beauty. Dealing with the beauty of Tokyo is dealing with the beauty of urban life itself. Tokyo doesn’t immediately bring a slick image to mind like Paris and London do. In a tourist guide or on the Internet it is unlikely that you will find a picture of the city trying to persuade you to visit the city. Instead, you will probably find an image of a Buddha statue, cherry blossom or a bowl of rice trying to be persuasive. Tokyo has camouflaged this absence of a clear image by letting it being represented by Mt. Fuji, a mountain at approximately one hundred kilometers distance of the city center.

In recent centuries Mt. Fuji has been the undisputed icon of the city. On many images of the city dating from the period that Tokyo was still named Edo (1603-1867) the mountain is always present somewhere on the background. Or Mt. Fuji rather took a prominent place on the image with the city as an extra somewhere on the foreground.One of the world’s largest human settlements was being represented at that time by a natural phenomenon.

The immense industrial development of Japan after WO II has changed that situation. The amount of smog that the city has created since that time has had a disastrous effect on the visibility of the city. The image of Mt. Fuji has literally gone up in smoke.

On present-day images of the city the mountain is conspicuous by its absence. The city is now shown in manga’s, very popular Japanese comic books, the way it really is: an endless urban desert made out concrete, perforated with window and cut by rivers made out asphalt. The reason for the eligibility of the city lies in the fact that the public space is hardly designed. Urban interventions à la Haussmann’s in Paris are unthinkable for the state because most of the landed property belongs to the people, divided in an innumerable amount of little plots. Expropriation was never part of the vocabulary of the urban planner because landed property is the most important possession for a family in Tokyo. On street level you experience the city like some kind of fog where small detached houses loom up alternated with supermarkets and here and there a school. You can read on a lamppost in which ward you are, and signs saying ‘Welcome to…’ or ‘Thank you for visiting…’ let you know that you have actually entered or left the city, because visually Tokyo never stops and never begins.

Yet in this urban fog, beauty can be found just as frequently and definitely as intense as in a typical postcard-city. Two urban principles underlie this phenomenon: scale and density. Two simple principles but when being applied to the extreme leading to beauty.

Tokyo Manga

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ETERNAL ISE

In the summer of 2010 the city centre of Amsterdam’s famous canal district was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list. The United Nations’ organisation praises the city as an ‘outstanding example of a built urban ensemble, civil engineering, town planning, construction and architectural know-how’. As an architect I should be thrilled with such high recognition of my professional field in my hometown, but I am not. I am not against preserving valuable things. My difficulty with this inscription is because of the strong focus on the image of Amsterdam, while the identity of the city, its true value, is in danger. The focus should be on the snake, not on the skin it’s left behind (…)

Ise Shrine

 

I am not a practicing Shintoist or Buddhist, but the way their thoughts on continuity and impermanence influenced the view on preservation inspires. It illustrates the stark contrast between the building cultures in the West and in the East, not only on the topic of preservation but also on the culture of building in general.

The Ise Shrine in Japan is one of the most striking examples of preservation and the UNESCO’s antidote. It’s a complex of 123 Shinto shrines of which the two most important ones, the Naiku and Geku shrine, are rebuilt every twenty years since the year 690 A.D. In 1993 the shrines were rebuilt for the sixty-first time and the next rebuilding (the Shikinen Sungu ceremony) is scheduled for 2013, with the preparations already well under way. In order to rebuild the shrine, its compound is divided into two sectors. One sector is in use by the current shrine, the other sector, called the kodenchi, is the empty site covered with white gravel. On this site the previous shrine was built and on it the next shrine will be built. Only one small wooden hut (oi-ya) remains on the kodenchi covering a small sacred post known as the shin-no-mihashira. The new shrine will be built over this post, in order to hide it at all times, making the posts the most sacred and mysterious objects of the entire complex.

When the time comes to rebuild, the old sanctuary will function as a model for the newly constructed shrine. The ‘original’ was naturally a ‘copy’ of a previous model. Copy-paste, but then rose to the sixty-first power. Every twenty years a startling moment occurs when the new shrine is already built and the old shrine is not dismantled yet. At that moment two shrines exist, identical and at the same time not identical, two copies and two originals, revealing what we desperately try to erase in the West: the passage of time. (…)

Russian grave

To accept impermanence as in vital part of our life and culture is a lesson we can learn from Japan. In order to keep our cities and their identity alive, it’s only natural to allow them to change. We should not degrade a building or a city to a witness of the past, but let it be a carrier of present day stories, dreams and memories to come. We should treat them as our favourite suit, not as our coffin.

 

Article published in Monu – Magazine on Urbanism #14, April 2011

 

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FOREVER YOUNG

For the exhibition Volksvlijt 2056 the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area (AMA) is divided into different subareas, each with its own character and role within the region, Of course, one of the AMA subareas is the city centre of Amsterdam, the part of the city within the Singelgracht. During three workshops in the Amsterdam Public Library (Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam, OBA), Jarrik Ouburg entered into discussion with residents, administrators, Institutions and companies in order to collectively reflect on the innovative power and the future of the city centre of Amsterdam.

The results of these discussions formed the basis for the Winter School 2016, in which all students of the Academy of Architecture participated for two weeks. The ultimate word, thought and action were given to a new generation who will take care of the city. In total, 180 architecture, landscape architecture and urban design students from all over the world throw themselves wholeheartedly into answering the question of how the old historic city can continue to adapt in order to play a significant role for current and future generations: Forever Young.

You could ask yourself if it is not more socially relevant to consider the future of the Nieuw-West (New West) or Zuidoost (South-East) districts of Amsterdam, instead of always looking at the city centre. Is this not a form of navel-gazing? However, just like the umbilical cord is the lifeline between mother and child for nine months and essential to the first growth, the historic city centre is also indispensable to the creation of each city. After cutting the umbilical cord, nothing remains but a scar; the navel, a shadow of its original function. Can we also prevent this from becoming the future scenario for the historic city centre? Or is that actually not so bad?

During the discussions and meetings which were held in the context of Volksvlijt 2056, prior to the Winter School, the central question was therefore: ‘what is the role of the historic city centre now, and in the future, for the body of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area as a whole?’

It became quickly apparent that the historic city centre is no scar, but still the main focus in our reflection about the city. This is not about the physical city, which is photogenically portrayed on websites for tourists, with its beautiful canals and buildings, and UNESCO world heritage status. But it is about what the city actually stands for. The inclusive city. For everyone, of everyone. For the poor and the rich.

Amsterdam, G.H. Breitner (1898)

Model Winterschool Amsterdam Academy of Architecture

For yuppie and family. For young and old. A place to work and to live. For entertainment and advancement. A place for amazement. A place for friction. A place for encounters. And a place that inspires. During the Winter School 2016, we give the new generation free rein. Students of the Academy of Architecture design and research spatial possibilities to adapt and innovate the city centre of Amsterdam, so that it can remain significant for current and future generations. To quote the writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa: ‘Everything must change, so that everything can remain the same’.

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THE CAPSULE AND THE COLLECTIVE

In order to keep living in popular cities affordable, we need to live more compactly and smarter, and not to see sharing of functions as a shortage, but as an added value for the individual home.

Apartment Tokyo

One of the qualities of the profession of an architect is that you may crawl into your client’s skin. To design a good restaurant you need to be a cook, a kind of professional voyeurism. The interesting thing of designing a residential building is that you are both designer and expert at the same time. After all you have been ‘living’ your entire life. When we were asked to think about a complex of small apartments, my thoughts immediately returned to an earlier Tokyo experience where I lived for two years. For the first few months, I lived in a spacious room in a quiet suburb two hours by train from the city centre. After six months, my girlfriend and I decided to leave our individual apartments and live together in a small apartment in the city centre. It was a conscious choice for us to live in small space in a big city than to live spacious in a small village.

Every time I look back to the floor plan of the apartment, the door seems to be too big. Nothing is less true, the apartment was that small: 18 m2. The apartment was nevertheless the place to live, to sleep, to give parties, but it also served as an office and guesthouse for visits from the Netherlands. In Japan, I learned that a well designed small space that can assume multiple functions is more valuable than a big space that is not good for anything. To give a small space a high quality, we need to design more than the walls, the ceiling and a few windows as an architect. We have to continue designing. The interior has to become an integral part of architecture. A nice example of this is the Tokonoma, a built-in closet with an elevated stage in the heart of the house, where the resident can put a vase of flowers, a candle or incense.

Traditional Japanese Tokonoma

To let the resident’s character speak, all specific possessions are placed on a pedestal. The kitchen, closet and bed are hidden. There is a clear separation between served and serving spaces. One best examples of this way of designing is the Nakagin Capsule Tower of architect Kisho Kurokawa in Tokyo, built in 1972. Each apartment is a prefabricated steel capsule with an internal size of 2.3 x 3.8 x 2.1m, complete with all built-in home appliances and furniture. The tower is a celebration of the individual and lacks a thought that Kurukawa would develop years later in his book Kyosei no Shiso (English: Each One a Hero, The Philosophy of Symbiosis) where he deals with the concept of symbiosis. In Greek, symbiosis means ‘interdependence’ and refers to a relationship between two different organisms that are beneficial or even necessary to each other.

Symbiosis is a radical different concept than harmony which is about mutual equivalence but also of mutual independence. Symbiosis emphasizes the differences between organisms and the dependence on each other. Think of the buffalo and the buffalo and oxpeckers. Kurokawa argues that differences, discussions between people and because of that an understanding for each other is necessary for connection. Symbiosis would therefore be the best form of society. In light of the latest political developments, I think Kurokawa made a predictive statement in his book from 1991. (…)

 

Article published on Archined 03.02.2017

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THE WHITE SPACE

The question whether to become head of architecture at the Academy of Architecture is not an easy one. For it touches on the meaning of education, the position of the academy, and the future of a new generation of architects. To get to grips with this complex question, I started to look at the academy from the world in which it operates, from its context. I then divided this context into different scales, from small to big: the academy itself, the academy within the Amsterdam School of the Arts, the academy within the city of Amsterdam, the academy in an international perspective, and the academy within the biggest context, namely time. These scales form the leitmotif that runs through my inaugural speech. I also view this occasion as a way of introducing myself to you. I am of the opinion that, as an architect, you are what you do, what you design, what you make. So the best way to get to know me is through my work. I will therefore illustrate my speech with the help of projects by my office. (…)

The main objective in education is to stimulate students to get the most out of themselves. This raises fundamental questions such as: how do I learn something, how do I teach somebody something, and especially, how do I teach somebody to learn?

In the Industrial Design course at Delft University of Technology, the book Product Design: Fundamentals and Methods by Roozenburg and Eekels is required reading. It’s a very dry tome, but it contains a remarkably illuminating diagram of the innovation process that, to me, corresponds with the design process. The process consists of divergence and convergence, in my opinion inspiration and concentration.

Flammarion

The process starts with researching the possibilities inherent in the question. There then follows a choice, the turning point at which divergence turns into convergence. At the academy we often call that ‘the concept’. This decisive moment is when a general question is translated into a personal answer.

Diagram of design process

This answer is then elaborated as clearly and precisely as possible in a design. What I think is interesting about this diagram in relation to the academy is that students here learn about diverging and converging from one another. Students enter the academy with a background in either construction or art education. It is precisely this mix that can strengthen the quality of each individual student. I will have to exaggerate this to make it clearer. The artist often thinks in terms of opportunities, sketches possibilities. His power lies in diverging. But an immense number of fascinating ideas does not by definition lead to a good design. The building technician, by contrast, often thinks too quickly in terms of a solution. He converges and sees the process as a straight line from A to B. But that process involves too little investigation into other possibilities, into other solutions. And thus he does not seek the ultimate solution. It is precisely the capacity of the architect to be able to both diverge and converge, to inspire and to concentrate. He has the capacity to see possibilities, to dare to make choices, and then to elaborate them in a clear and profound design. Owing to the unique mix of students at the academy, they can probably learn these capacities better from one another than from the tutor, or from me. (…)

 

Inaugural Speech of Jarrik Ouburg as Head of Architecture Department of the Amsterdam Academy of Architecture, given on September 6, 2012

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TUSSEN RUIMTE

The Amsterdam canal district is the result of an innovative 17th-century town expansion, spurred by an emerging civil society. In the past four centuries Amsterdam’s inner city changed continuously. In 2010 the area was added to Unesco’s World Heritage Site.

As one of the effects of this inscription, the area is now under even more scrutiny from preservationists. With Tussen–ruimte, we want to challenge the static state of affairs that comes with preservation. As part of Amsterdam’s year long celebration of the 400th anniversary of Amsterdam’s canal district in 2013, Tussen–ruimte popped up in the smallest cracks of the inner city: residual and hidden spaces that arose due to historical transformations, but that still offer possibilities for new urban development.

According to our definition, ‘Tussen–ruimtes’ (or ‘In-between spaces’) could be described as outdoor, open-air spaces that exist in-between and behind buildings and are connected to one of Amsterdam’s main canals or connecting streets in the part of the inner city that is on Unesco’s World Heritage list: the 17th Century canal ring area inside the Singelgracht.

These spaces emerged, often unintentionally, from following centuries. Originally, the spaces gave direct access to the servants’ quarters, stables, workshops and other functions that were hidden from view in the many alleys and courtyards behind the houses and shops that lined the canals and side streets.

Over time most of them were closed off with doors and fences, keeping unwanted guests outside and detaching the space from the public sphere. Being an early example of the detrimental effects of privatised space, creating gated communities avant-la-lettre, these passages were cut-off from the city for a very long time.

 

Tussenruimte

Now we want to reconnect them. Despite their small size, or maybe even because of it, they provide much needed space.

Tussen–ruimte might have started as an investigation into undefined space in Amsterdam’s canal area – and addressing this by opening up semi-private alleys – but during this process, our narrow definition of Tussen–ruimte moved in unexpected directions, as if the narrow alleys were trying to tell a bigger story.

Once you know there are already 56 Tussen–ruimtes in the Unesco zone, you start spotting more possible in between spaces. You notice that those pretty facades have flaws too, and that behind those doors are traces of change, neglect, life. Tussen–ruimte invites you down the rabbit hole. It asks you to slow down from your daily Amsterdam bicycle routine and look up and around you again.

It offers the thought of a carte blanche, celebrating the possibility—by not filling it in. It’s Amie Dicke measuring a Tussen–ruimte with a rope

and then throwing it on the floor somewhere else. It’s the neighbour who decided to paint the opposing wall only around the border of his window view in a bright white. It’s locked doors, lost keys, but at least knowing that there is always a way to get in…

“The French philosopher Marc Augé has coined a term to describe anti-planning: non-places. He basically meant neutral, generic areas such as the highway, the airport, the grocery store. The Tussen–ruimte project gives new meaning to the concept of non-places. These are not PLOAPS, ‘places left over after planning,’ but places left over during planning. Their research shows us areas that we did not know existed, real non-places that we suddenly experience very strongly as places thanks to, for example, white gravel and long flowing cloth, or sound. No matter how well you know the city, these gaps provide a completely new urban experience.”

—Tracy Metz, during her Tussen–talk that took place in the Tussen–ruimte at De Duif church.

 

Article on www.archined – 9th of September 2013

Article on www.nrc.nl – 2nd of August 2013

Article in De Groene Amsterdammer – 29th of August 2013