architect_ Calum Ward
project year_ 2016-2017
location: Glasgow, Scotland

from the architect_

Ethnography is the scientific description of peoples and cultures with their customs, habits, and mutual differences where the intent is to provide a detailed, in-depth portrayal of everyday life and practice. Ethnographic research is field-based and conducted in the settings in which real people actually live, rather than in laboratories where the researcher controls the elements of the behaviours to be observed or measured. In order to develop an understanding of what it is like to live in a setting, ethnography relies greatly on up-close, personal experiences. Participation, rather than just observation.

The new Institute of Ethnography will become an active contributor in observing and showcasing the progress of the area of Calton, one of the most culturally diverse areas in the city of Glasgow. More specifically, the primary aim of the building is to represent and express the cultural interpretation of the area to the wider public. This project is therefore live, acting as a national base for discussion, debate and as a forum of public exchange on contemporary ethnographic issues.

Within the field of ethnography, much of the data collected for studies is withheld from the public eye, in particular the more autobiographical dimension of ethnographic research. Therefore, the building will stand as a platform for hosting and exhibiting all forms of data collection including interviews, artefacts, objects and observations from the field of study. Ethnography is also described as a written observational science, meaning most of the information gathered is found in literature, therefore, this places hierarchy on the library as the main space within the building. Its importance is conveyed by expressing the volume in the building’s massing and in the articulation of the facade.

The entrance to the building has an axial relationship with the Barras Market to invite continuous movement into the interior. The first space upon entry is the assembly room where people are gathered and then dispersed to spaces and functions set off it. On the cross axis, the main staircase leads the visitor vertically through the series of exhibition spaces, acting as a “warm up” before entering the library located on the upper floors.

Externally, the choice of materials responds to the buildings harsh surrounding environment. A concrete base grounds the building and consists of pre-cast panels that introduce a sense of human scale in what is a relatively large urban block. The upper volumes consist of brick, seemingly merging into the concrete below to correlate with the datum of the neighbouring tenement. The brick texture and pattern aims to create a skin-like appearance, where this “wrapping” of the elevation symbolically protects the importance and the worth of the items stored inside.