• Rem Koolhaas. Tabula Rasa…or the Strategy of the Void. José Antonio Tallón (UPM).

The concept of tabula rasa appears in the work of Rem Koolhaas as a common territory on which he lays the foundations of a camouflaged anti-urbanism. Conceived in the city of New York, a centrifuge grid is self-imposed on Manhattan – from Lenape language “Island of Hills”- morphing into an ambitious reticulated flat territory that eliminates every trace of the landscape. Thereby the new model of exportable city that defines the metropolis of the twentieth century is definitely gestated. Rem Koolhaas’s notion of tabula rasa, taboo since the ambitious plans of Le Corbusier, has set itself as a strategy of emptiness, ensuring that the tragedy of urban planning gestated in the New World continues running in Old Europe. Large areas of terrain vague nourish a system in continuous modernization. Thus a new beginning is always possible. The ‘Tabula Rasa’ in capital letters is revisited: it is converted into an urban strategy. Rem Koolhaas points out a number of different cities under ambitious renovation plans starting from a large urban void implemented for various reasons. So apparently different territories like the cities of Singapore, Rotterdam or Paris become the new model of contemporary ‘city without attributes’ as a result of the implementation of tabula rasa. Rem Koolhaas highlights the typology of the dump as the final destination of the city based on ‘tabula rasa’. So, Rem focuses his attention on the city of Lagos as a metaphor for authentic contemporary dump result of pure accumulation. Once the tabula rasa is established, the urban mass begins to grow out of our control. Concepts like “Dirty Realism”, “Junk space”, “Light Urbanism” or “Generic City” end up in the “Big Hole”, the deepest insubstantial emptiness that inhabits the heart of the tabula rasa: a void that tries to blur all specificity in order to accommodate a mere accumulation of ideologies…

  • Propaganda, Reclamation or Critique. The politics of Retroactive Manifestos in the Conception of Contemporary Culture. David Franco (USP CEU Madrid and Clemson University).

One of the most decisive attributes shared by the different strands of 20th Century Architectural Avant-Garde, is the radical impulse to wipe out the complexity of everyday-life to start new architectures from a scratch. Ultimately, this modern attitude of obliteration towards social reality came under under attack by postmodern critics, which argued that there was an intrinsic value in the built forms produced spontaneously by modern societies. Two of the most influential architectural texts of the late XXth century -Venturi’s Learning from Las Vegas (1972) and Koolhaas’ Delirious New York (1978)-, applied this logic by introducing new ways of translating social and political realities as a method for architectural invention. Using a self-explanatory term coined by Rem Koolhaas, we may call these texts Retroactive Manifestos. While there is no doubt that this new perspective -more socially contextual and less idealistic than modernism- proved to be a cultural liberation for architects, it also created an alibi to empty architecture from critical content. To put it simple: if it existed and was successful in reality, it was a legitimate source of inspiration. In this essay I’d like to explore the political inconsistencies of the genre of the Retroactive Manifesto, discussing on one hand its efficacy to transform technical and social realities into new architectural concepts and, on the other, its confusing political stance. Are the more elusive qualities of reality what we may recover through them or, do we merely reproduce uncritically the values of the existing power structures? To elucidate this question I’ll examine not only the evolution of OMA’s works, but also relevant examples of contemporary architectural re-contextualization, such as the recycling of Agricultural Technologies performed by Lacaton-Vassal, or the cultural reinterpretation of ordinary Tokyo architecture by Atelier Bow-wow.


  • Foreign influence and new architecture in the late 19th century. Sofoklis Kotsopoulos (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki).

Foreign influence and new architecture in the late 19th century Parthenogenesis in art continues to be a questionable concept today, even after decades of study and theorizing. This is certainly true in architecture, too, perhaps even to a greater extent due to its applied workable nature. The question as to the existence or not of an “Architectural Tabula Rasa” represents another very complex theoretical approach. It is a difficult approach due to the vagueness of Point Zero, which is considered in architecture to mean vacuum, something not architectural, or something old and outmoded. An interesting case in point is the one where major upheavals occurred in particular built environments, due to foreign influence, either through cultural activity, or territorial or economic dominance. During the Ottoman Empire’s dominance of northern Greece up until the middle of the nineteenth century, we witness the development of an especially interesting traditional style of architecture, where ancient Greek and Byzantine roots were enriched with the aid of eastern tradition. However, in the middle of the 19th century, while European powers were going into partnership with the Ottoman Empire and imposing themselves, especially economically speaking, their aesthetic principles were catching on further afield. Neoclassicism, historicism and eclecticism were dominating architecture, up to point zero. This cultural choice is not far removed from an organized Tabula Rasa pattern, in which the development of architecture, from that “Zero Point” onwards, revolves around these newly-entered trends as empiricism – a fundamental element of both the Aristotelian Theory and that of John Locke, as a source of creativity in the “pre-existing gap.” These transitions, however, require corresponding methodological approaches in the study of them. From the initial unawareness of an area to a given moment in time, via the experiences of research into cultural and historical events, as well as the empirical research of buildings, the understanding of its architecture opens up as the method of the Tabula Rasa.

  • Tabula Rasa and the rethoric of monumentality: the campus for University of Coimbra. Susana Constantino (universidade da Coimbra).

In the aftermath of World War II, the level of destruction caused by the conflict triggered a conspicuous challenge on the notion of tabula rasa as a key methodological principle for functionalist urbanism. In effect, from the mid-1940s on, authors such as Sigfried Giedion championed a shift from the machine tropes of early modernism towards a more humanistic approach, supporting the idea of New Monumentality. In this new intellectual framework, the new urban centres should be designed to accommodate the emotional expression and the life of the community. However, at a time when the interwar principles of modernist urbanism were being revised, the dictatorship that ruled Portugal (the so-called Estado Novo) launched the construction of the new campus for the University of Coimbra. This complex, chiefly influenced by the same principles of Italian fascism, enforced the monumental scale and language over a territory created from scratch after a massive operation that demolished most of the existing urban fabric and destroyed the community life that existed there. According to Françoise Choay, dictatorial regimes often used the “progressive model” of urbanism by recovering the idea of historical rupture though bypassing its aesthetic dimension. Thus, following Choay, I argue that in Coimbra’s campus as in other major works of dictatorships, the use of the tabula rasa as in instance of that progressive model was instrumental in the regime’s ambition for monumentality. Examining the design process and the construction of the new campus for the University of Coimbra, this paper will explore the political and disciplinary aspects that determined this apparent ambivalence between the regime’s rhetoric of classic monumentality and the use of a modernist approach. Moreover, this paper will also discuss further the contradiction between that rhetoric and the post war disciplinary discourse in praise of a new monumentality.

  • Suspended identity_morphological study of a spontaneous transfiguration in the albanian landscape. Arba Baxhaku (Università di Firenze).

Morphological study of the built landscape in Albanian territory in relation to a ‘spontaneous’ transfiguration of contemporary Tirana, expressed in the recovery of an instinctive identity suspended by the ‘monumental’ architecture of the past. The Balkans narrate a troubled history, placed in an area protagonist of historical cultural clashes between East and West. The presence of different religious identities leads to the many shapes traditional architecture assumes, tracing along with the monumental architecture of the system a suspended and fragmented memory of the place. Lying between significant transit routes, the Albanian landscape has been inscribed by signs of various passing influences. ‘Imported’ architectures have shown over the last century, the image of totalitarian regimes that have ruled the country by suspending direct relations both with the building traditions of the place and with the Western avant-garde. The experience of the capital, Tirana narrates a fascinating study case, marked by interventions of transformation that occurred between 1925 and 1943, cutting the bond with traditions of the past referring to a ‘TabulaRasa’, when the city was established as capital. Suggests the appearance of a city pervaded by different cultures that together make up its identity, the European one, that of Italian modern architecture that outlines the basics of the capital and is recognized for its classical forms and the monumental structure, the oriental one, made of pre-existing private spaces, gardens, mosques and bazaars, the communist identity, that has built most of the housing constructions, the spacious courts and sustained public spaces, and the current one that seeks spontaneously to reinvent the identity ignored. The goal of the analysis is to trace the understanding of a cultural identity revealed in architecture and its relationship with a broken memory of the past by comparing Tirana’s experience with the building traditions of Albanian historical cities.

  • Urban tabula rasa: a place to construct national identities. Niloofar Kakhi (AA).

The urban and architectural history of Tehran during the last century is the field of contradictions and oppositions between various definitions of the concept of national identity. In urban terms, almost every three decades a new governmental centre was added to the city and attempted to introduce a new definition of national identity through the particular functions housed in such areas and the design of their buildings. Of course, this was the consequence of much broader socio-political conditions that led to two revolutions in 1906 and 1979, as well as the establishment of two governments; Pahlavi monarchy (1925-1979) and the Islamic Republic (1979-present). Both regimes during the last century has constructed their own ‘capitol complex’ in the city, as the representative of the new government and its power in the city; each had a significant architectural and urban characteristic that could communicate the aspects of their preferred definition of national identity specifically through the medium of architecture.

These governmental centres were not designed in the heart of the capital, which was inherited form the previous regime, but in abandoned pieces of land, a sort of urban tabula rasa. In each case, these areas of the city, turned into the locus of governmental power and cultural activities for the overthrowing regime. Through a historical review, this paper aims to introduce the transformation of these urban tabula rasa(s) into the centre of power and argues that it is only through the potentials of a ‘tabula rasa’ that such architecturally influential centres could be realized that not only managed to convey a new national values to the public, but also succeeded to transform the architectural discipline.


  • Inventing Public Parks in Santiago`s XIX Century: Tabula Rasa and a Triple-Mythical Reading. Pía Montealegre (Pontificia Universidad católica de Chile).

Inventing Public Parks in Santiago’s XIX Century : Tabula Rasa in a Triple-mythical Reading In the late XIXth century, a comprehensive transformation plan was performed by Benjamin Vicuña Mackenna over Santiago de Chile. In the same drive, public spaces –until then, open fields or traditional walks– became urban parks, conceived now as modern urban features. The consideration of parks as a modernizing tabula rasa operation may be read in a triple mythic sense. First, as a historiographic myth: The birth of urban parks in the XIXth century’s Latin-American cities is often considered merely a transference of a typology entirely produced in northern latitudes. Ignoring frictions, the creation of parks is assumed as another facet of the frenchification of urban culture. But in fact, it is not a passive acquisition of a new habit, it is superimposed over the complex construction process of public space. Parks don’t land over a cultural –neither physical– void. But, in a second reading, for its promoters, parks worked indeed like a tabula rasa, as a foundational myth. Gardens, fountains, iron-forged embellishments, acted as a materialized fantastic fable that made appear modernity in space. Without the industrial overcrowded entourage that functionally justified public parks in Europe, in the still colonial Santiago, the settlement of new public gardens invoked modernity in materializing a cosmopolitan urban imaginary in the colonial landscape. And then, the third mythical reading of the park as tabula rasa is related to the fiction of public space as a modern egalitarian platform. As an open and public facility, the park represented in space the republican ideals, counter-proposing the monastic figure of the colonial city. But the promise of equity turned false when parks, in fact, reinforced social segregation in space, altering soil value and expelling popular practices out of the landscaped spaces. In that sense, the modern conjure of the park invoked the joy of the new, but also the most tragic phantoms of modernity.

  • Constructing Shanghai: Tabula Rasa and the language of “essence” and “form”. Kirsten Day (Swinburne University of Technology)

Constructing Shanghai: Tabula rasa and the language of “essence” and “form” During the last century there have two attempts at building the “new Shanghai”. In both cases Shanghai was the financial centre counterpart to the political capitals of Nanjing and later Beijing. International architects coordinated the design of the new city in both cases, using style to capture both the “essence” of traditional Chinese culture with the “form” of contemporary western technology. These new schemes for Shanghai were built on a tabula rasa of long-established farmland. The first, Wujiachang, was built during the Nanjing Decade (1927-1937), and was intended as a counterpart to Nanjing which was the Nationalist capital. American architect Henry Murphy prescribed the design for the city as one which would employ traditional Chinese architectural forms such as the upturned roofs and the bell towers (to establish an ‘essence’) which was to be applied to western planning techniques (which would provide ‘form’). War, civil unrest and new leadership resulted in abandoning further development of this scheme. In 1992 Premier Deng Xiaoping decreed Shanghai would again become “head of the dragon”, and financial capital of the People’s Republic of China. Another city was built in farmland in opposition to the colonial Bund. Here teams of international architects ensured that Pudong encapsulated the iconography of a “global city” (form) and applied traditional Chinese geomancy to localise the design (essence). This paper reports on the methodology used to define ‘essence’, as a cultural identifier in this context. It argues that the application of an appropriate language is complex, and the choice of imagery, whether sampled from traditional architecture, or traditional beliefs are complicated. The use of geomancy as a tool for providing ‘essence’ ignores the fact that it is an illegal activity under Communist law. The articulation of appropriate cultural identifiers in this new urban design and architecture remains an ongoing debate.

  • The American Desert. An Endless Cultural Landscape. Álvaro Velasco Pérez (AA and Universidad de Navarra).

The American Desert. An Endless Cultural Landscape. by Álvaro Velasco Pérez The American Desert seems to bear an inherent paradox: a territory governed by desolation, in which life becomes completely flimsy, has become–from a Western point of view—the soil to receive the seed of new beginnings. Since the times of Cortez and the ‘discovery of the New World’, the movement of exiling to the American Desert has been considered a tabula rasa, an absolute breakthrough with civilisation an the possibility of starting a-new. More intensely through the 20th-century, this idea brought interesting visitors such as Ansel Adams, Georgia O’keeffe, Michelangelo Antonioni, Robert Smithson and Wim Wenders, using the desert as testing ground, a site, an empty background, upon which they could project their ideas and see them uncontaminated. Seemingly barren, the desert is ironically an interesting object of research for a historian, looking at ideas whose home is precisely homelessness. The argument would be that, even though historically has been considered meek to receive new ideas, the American Desert is not an innocent white canvas but a space of tensions, full of unresolved liminal conditions(Immigration, the American Indians, test sites, space shuttles…) Western culture has created a tabula rasa out of this landscape, when it is not a rarefied empty one, but, paradoxically it is a charged void. The American Desert is a peculiar case in which precisely the stories of a possible new beginning have hidden what is actually there. This tabula rasa is not generated by eroding what is there—in the fashion of Modernity—but by blurring through layers of mythology.


  • Issues of Authenticity in the Reconstruction of Architectural Environments. Robert Anderson (Tilburg University)

Throughout human history the cultural meanings of various architectural structures have been altered.  This continuous change in our social environments is evidenced by the destruction of countless cities during WWII, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in NYC, and in recent memory by the damage and loss created by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the Philippines, to name just a few.  Our environments are constantly being altered, and these changes contribute to the disruption of our sense of continuity, our memories, and our shared meaning.  Our reactions to these changes vary according to the layers of cultural, historic, and artistic identity that have been disrupted, challenging our perceptions of the authentic.

Of particular interest to this presentation are the varying layers of relationships found in collective memory and invented traditions, which examines how they intersect in the creation (and re-creation) of identity, history, symbolism, and significance.  In considering these complex issues, the preliminary focus will be on a number of architectural examples in America, Europe, and Asia that address varying aspects of authenticity through reconstruction.

By exploring these seemingly disparate examples, a discourse will be generated in the design community, as to both the merits (and lack thereof) of various representations and reconstructions in their respective contexts, and the nature of authenticity in architecture.

  •  The design of the archaeological site: a reflection on the morphology of urban archaeological sites and archaeological parks. Federica Gotta (Politecnico de Bari).

The research highlights the need to develop an overall methodological design approach, than could be the theoretical foundation to design “THE archaeological area” and not “IN the archaeological area”. The design in areas characterized by the presence of ruins introduces problems related to: the discipline of architectural Restoration, linked to the materic, functional and formal loss of integrity of the monument; the discipline of museology, linked to the physical and didactic use of the remains; the discipline of architectural project, linked to the morphology of the archaeological site and his “environmental condition”. Analysing the slow cultural and historical process that elapsed between the concepts of “landscape of ruins” and those of “urban archaeological site and archaeological park”, it could note the powerless design response to the problem of relation between site and context. This is, in fact, expression of the non meditated choice on the morphology of the archaeological area. The archaeological sites are often confined to a “margin” whose shape is defined by arbitrary phenomena, related to the conditions of excavation or an urban development that ignored their existence. They have lost a functional practical-utilitarian purpose and usually lie to a walking level lower then modern one. According to a cultural need for which the stratification takes a historical value distant in time, the archaeological sites are not looking for any mediation with the contemporary city. However, However, a different conception of the archaeological heritage would see such testimonies as a life’s phase of the place where they are conserved. Ruins re-emerge as a result of a voluntary action of research. They are part in the history of the places and should live together with them in a relationship of “dialogue” and “co-existence”. Anyway, regardless of how you could interpret the theme of “relationship with the context” , it can not rule out a reflection about the morphology of that “margin”, which can not be result of non-project operations and at the same time it identifies the object of design itself.

  • Rethinking the industrial ruins: Trapani Power Station by Giuseppe Samonà. Flavia Zaffora (Università di Palermo).

Trapani Power Station was the third element, in the early 60s, of the electric development of Sicily, which was the first key for the growth of the island, due to SGES, the General Electric Society of Sicily (then merged in ENEL, the Italian electric utility company). As the two previous power plants, located in Augusta and Termini Imerese, its design is submitted to Giuseppe Samonà, one of the most important Italian architects of the XXth century, Dean of the IUAV at that time. After the first two huge plants, Samonà designed the small one at the south of Trapani, near the salt marshes whose extension is for around one thousand hectares, from Ronciglio down south to Paceco. Important example of modern industrial architecture (it reminds of the monument of the Turbinenfabrik by Peter Behrens), is now reduced to its structural steel skeleton. Anyway, it still has an “unusual line”, whose uniqueness is confirmed by its relationship with the surroundings, really near to the city harbour, although in a very flat territory, strictly connected to the salt marshes. Just in its structural essentiality, the power station stands lonely as an icon, linking the town to the sea and the salt marshes. Rethinking about this plant today is a way to ask an interesting question: the point is understanding if its reuse and re-design can totally delete all what remains and if it can aim to a complete tabula rasa of what past has left, in order to take advantage of the unique localization. Thus, the project could trigger a deep changing in the development policy of the town and become a key to the enhancement of the Trapani harbour, rethinking it as the real western gateway of the Mediterranean Sea.

  • Slussen before Slussen: built and imagined ideas. Álvaro Clúa Uceda (UPC).

Despite its rough, strange, taxative and machinist presence, the Slussen project inaugurated in 1935 hides in its interstices a long and not well-known story of delicacies and permanencies. Applying the tabula rasa tag to that project, designed by Tage William-Olsson, is an unjustified and reductive simplification since it is built, in fact, following three constant and unforgettable layers: attention to its geographical location, the shadow of the ideas and the reinterpretation of history. This article argues synthetically the weight of these built or imagined three layers, which constitute the true tabula of Slussen. It is a deep palimpsest which refers to some attitudes beyond the historical revival or the archaeological recovery and projects to the imminent future as an operating data. The Slussen, ” la prémiere grande oeuvre des temps modernes ” as Le Corbusier said, it is now a neglected ruin of the modern movement, with a disproportionate powerful road geometry set in a strategic interstice between water and land and a current source of public discussion about its urbanity renewal. Facing the controversy of some of the projects presented at the Slussen international competition of 2009, the article suggests substantiate questions like, which are the factors that have caused its death? Is Slussen today a white paper where everything can be done, as if nothing had existed? Is it appropriate to maintain a depleted urban form? ¿Is re-habiting a synonymous of nostalgia or opportunism?

Escuela de Arquitectura    In collaboration with: EAHN

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