The City as a Palimpsest

Teaching team

Andriette Ahrenkiel, Thomas Clemmensen, Thomas Hilberth, Nacho Ruiz Allén


Unit 2/3A + Unit 2/3B. 2017-2018. Aarhus School of Architecture


Auditorium Foyer, Nørreport 22. Aarhus, Denmark




Where do we come from and where are we going? It is a question we may ask ourselves in philosophical moments. Similarly, we have questions to ask about the city. How was it created and how will it develop in the future? Traces of earlier events and history are embedded in the urban structure. Latent possibilities and potentials for future development can be distinguished too. As architects, we are interested in revealing and identifying these different layers to gain an understanding of the specificity of a place. By studying the urban morphology: Building typologies, infrastructure systems, landscape elements and how their relationship has changed through time, architects read the urban fabric as a palimpsest.

A palimpsest describes as a surface that reveals traces and signs of its history – the opposite of a ‘tabula rasa’ or ‘clean slate.’ The term is used in many disciplines; it is common in archaeology to describe the strata of chronological historical material that they can read on the surface of a site. It is also used in architecture – across building, urban, and landscape scales – to describe the layered construct of past manifestations legible in the present architectural fabric. In the workshop, we mainly operate at an urban scale where it is possible to detect how different historical periods and changes in architectural traditions, planning ideologies, transport technologies, etc. have modified the urban fabric, its structure, morphology and relation to the larger landscape, illuminating the political and cultural context in which each layer of the urban fabric was conceived, planned and built. The core brief is to use maps and aerial photographs to rigorously investigate the layered construction of a particular urban fabric and discuss via a plaster model how past ideas, plans, projects etc., remain present today.

A partir de las investigaciones desarrolladas, cada grupo produjo una maqueta y un pequeño dossier. Las maquetas están realizadas en yeso, a escala 1:1500 y sobre una base de 30x30x6cm. El dossier contiene información sobre la ciudad analizada.

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