The concept of Layered Morphologies is a theoretical and methodological approach that investigates the coevolutionary nature of architecture and settlements, to propose an organic and integrated approach to their reading, protection and design enhancement. Transcending some usual spatial ontologies and operating across interdisciplinary fields, it promotes a renewed notion of built heritage as historicised architecture, and landscape as a structure of structures, where any act of modification should start from recognizing pre-existing signs, typo-morphological structures, and writing of the ground and formal orders. Advancing critical-theoretical propositions while verifying their operational value in the case study of Fenghuang (Shaanxi) - a famous historic and cultural town in China - the methodology reveals a new reading and the potential underlying of Chinese settlements forms. Architectural and urban-rural design projects are not the colonization of a void (a tabula rasa
) but rather an understanding and interpretation of an existing text with its erasures and absences (tabula plena
), which also presents the principles for future writings.