RESEARCH: Tabula Scripta

“Don’t avoid the complexity of reality, let it take you beyond your personal and professional comfort zone.”

Anonymous student – Workshop GUC / Amsterdam Academy of Architecture, Cairo, 2017


Most of our land is developed, designed, or in use and resources have become scarce. As a result, an architect is forced to relate more to existing conditions and to design on the basis of these conditions. The idea of the ‘tabula rasa’, or creating from scratch, is no longer a viable option while in education and in practice there is still a tendency to demolish and start anew with a sketch on a pristine white sheet of paper.

Jenny Holzer had ‘Protect me from what I want’ displayed large on a billboard in Times Square, a center of capitalism and consumption. This was meant as a warning to self. The same phrase can apply today for architects to temper their urge for the new and for ever more production and to prioritizing quantity over quality. Current times require a more holistic approach to how we as architects deal with what is already there, who is already there, and what we still have. This requires more from an architect. More commitment, more creativity, more intelligence.


Tabula Scripta is a research by Floris Alkemade, Michiel van Iersel and Jarrik Ouburg conducted at the Academy of Architecture Amsterdam spanning from 2014 until 2019 that explored the condition of the ‘written page’, the complex reality in which we live and work. A reality that, after generations of building, demolition and renovation, has produced a layered environment that is too often seen as a backdrop for architecture.

The research’s subject is the attitude and working method of the architect who does not look at the layered context of a project as a parameter that lies outside the design brief, but as that which defines the design brief itself and whereby the existing context is not seen as a limitation, but as an opportunity to make use of and a latent potential for a design.


How can the existing context be read, understood, valued and further developed? How can the contemporary architect and urban planner respond better to current issues and developments, with the existing context as a starting point? How can care for heritage and new developments go hand in hand? And how can architecture anticipate new developments from the existing, from aging and social segregation to climate change? These are questions that are central to the research.

It is an attitude towards architecture that is at the same time modest and ambitious, because it is supported by the belief that it is we ourselves continuously create our cultural, social and historical world


The research defines 10+1 methods, actions and reactions, how architecture can add value to the existing when we: Eliminate, Continue, Obscure, Reconfigure, Repurpose, Densify, Copy, Overlay, Reimagine, (Re)Start or Abstain.

It draws on domains such as philosophy, art and fashion to generate a broader framework of thought. It places various international case studies side by side, looking for differences and unexpected similarities. It examines exemplary built examples, but also explicitly shows educational projects. The academic world in which this research originated is seen as a parallel reality complementary to existing practice, a breeding ground, laboratory for new ideas, techniques and insights. The research therefore looks at the complex reality with a Janus face: full of expectation at the past and full of wonder for the future.


The research resulted in the publication of the booik ‘Rewriting Architecture. 10+1 Actions for an Adaptive Architecture, Tabula Scripta’, edited by Floris Alkemade, Michiel van Iersel, Mark Minkjan and Jarrik Ouburg, designed by Haller Brun and published by Valiz.



See also page ‘Rewriting Architecture. 10+1 Actions’

Read essay in Japanese magazine A+U on Tabula Scripta by Jarrik Ouburg (13.12.2019)