The Oxford English Dictionary defines “Ethnography” as ‘the scientific description of different people and cultures, with their customs, habits, and differences’. It was a concept-based method which was used by the Social Scientists to study about the Communities and their Culture and Society. The realm of Ethnography includes three primary subjects – People, Society, and Culture. The Ethnography study becomes crucial in the Social and Cultural Architecture where the inhabitants are of prime importance to space. This study can help the Architects and Designers to produce user-driven designs to enhance their rich cultural and societal values. 

The adaptation of Ethnography in the Architectural world has been achieving proper attention where with the growing competition, user-responsive designs have become one of the major requirements as well a considerable challenge to the Architects. “The user” is a central trope in the ethnographic projects in Architecture, the aspects involved in designing such a project involves Their basic needs, Cultural responses, Societal Values, and many more. Taking into consideration the amount of research that goes into these projects, Ethnography can be termed as an “Emerging design strategy”. Some of the key advantages of Ethnography in architecture can be listed as: 

  1. The researches are done in a natural setting producing more direct, simple and straight-forward results
  2. An accurate reflection of behavioral patterns can be framed out which can contribute to creating a user-driven spaces
  3. Explorations can be formed which emphasize particular Social phenomena and Cultural aspects
  4. It offers interpretations of the actions and behaviors of the inhabitants that should be unearthed thorough investigation of what people do and their reasons behind doing it. 

In the field of Architecture, Ethnography generally takes place during the time of Research which we call it “Ethnographic Research”. Over time, Ethnographic Research has become one of the important research methods for Qualitative research. The growing importance of Ethnography in Architecture has led to the incorporation of Ethnographic studies including parameters like Human behavior, Cultural diversities, and User perspectives – in academic curriculums for Architecture teaching. New age projects are declining towards designs as an outcome of extensive research which is driven by all the three parameters mentioned above. According to Non-Arkaraprasertkul from King’s College London “Ethnographic research requires architects to pay attention to what they observe and to be very keen to ask questions about the rationality behind certain activities that take place in the community, rather than to just look at the characteristic of the existing architecture and physical condition”. – as written in his paper METHODOLOGY TO ADDRESS THE MISSING MEDIUM GROUND THE ETHNOGRAPHIC PERSPECTIVE ‘Methodology to Address the missing medium ground the ethnographic perspective’. 

The representation of Ethnographic studies can result in a driving factor where space loudly speaks about the Lifestyle and Culture of a community. These kinds of projects become special for the targeted audience and the users to reconnect and experience a strong soulful presence of their identity. 

For example, The Jewish Museum in Berlin designed by Daniel Lebinskind established a Berlin identity that was lost during WWII. The museum was a strong expression of feelings of Absence, Emptiness, and Invisibility – expressions of the disappearance of the Jewish culture. The project can be briefly described as a responsive architectural action of emotions providing the visitors where both the Jewish Culture and the city of Berlin can be deeply felt.  

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Another Lebinskind project of a corporate pavilion for Vanke China represented the Chinese culture based on the theme of the food: the shi tang, a traditional Chinese dining hall, the landscape, the fundamental element to life, and the dragon which is metaphorically related to farming and sustenance. “As the rapid growth of cities forces populations to live in closer proximity and the risk of social disintegration rises, we commissioned this pavilion to address both metaphorically and physically the issues of contemporary life related to the theme of the Expo,” said Wang Shi, Chairman, China Vanke.

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A slightly different but a relative consequence of taking into account the Reading habits and the User-interaction as the primary requirements, the V.F.Xira Municipal Library named as the “Factory of Words” posses a broader concept of the functions of a library with a desire to build effectively usable equipment for the local population. Breaking the norms of the traditional and typical reading behavior, this library allows more free and unique experiences of reading. To be able to contribute to a greater and more effective relation of users with space, the different floors are overlapped in an intentionally staggered manner to ensure a clear visual contact between them. 

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There seems to be no direct link between Ethnography with modern Architecture but it sure is one of the most important “tools” to increase consumer appreciation. Ethnography plays most of its role while researching for the particular project hence gathering all the facts and information about the Culture, Society, Lifestyle and Human behavior of a targeted community. This ultimately results in an “Architectural Representation” in the modern Architecture, that connects the user to space via – the Architecture.

Ethnography in modern Architecture ensures ideas and innovations which are of value for the users. Today’s firms are constantly in a need of new ways to achieve a competitive advantage. Ethnography can be a tool for these firms providing a better understanding and alignment with their customer’s values. Hence, modern Architecture requires more and more involvement and insights from Ethnographic research and responses. 

Bibliography: 

 

  1. Pavlides, E. (n.d.). Ethnographic Methods in Support of Architectural Practice. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/7960600/Ethnographic_Methods_in_Support_of_Architectural_Practice
  2. Wilson, J. (2017, May 2). Ethnography: A Creative Tool for Human-Centered Design. Retrieved from https://www.buildinggreen.com/primer/ethnography-creative-tool-human-centered-design
  3. Key Characteristics. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ethnographiceducationresearch.weebly.com/key-characteristics.html
  4. Pavlides, E., & Cranz, G. (n.d.). Ethnographic Methods in Support of Architectural Practice. Retrieved from https://docs.rwu.edu/saahp_fp/12/
  5. METHODOLOGY TO ADDRESS THE MISSING MEDIUM GROUND THE … (n.d.). Retrieved from http://web.mit.edu/incrementalhousing/WUF-Rio/pdfs/EthnographicPerspective.pdf
  6. Pavka, E. (2010, November 25). AD Classics: Jewish Museum, Berlin / Studio Libeskind. Retrieved from https://www.archdaily.com/91273/ad-classics-jewish-museum-berlin-daniel-libeskind
  7. Valenzuela, K. (2015, May 7). Vanke Pavilion – Milan Expo 2015 / Studio Libeskind. Retrieved from https://www.archdaily.com/627994/vanke-pavilion-milan-expo-2015-daniel-libeskind?ad_medium=widget&ad_name=more-from-office-article-show
  8. Delaqua, V. (2020, March 7). Vila Franca de Xira Municipal Library / Miguel Arruda Arquitectos Associados. Retrieved from https://www.archdaily.com/626465/vila-franca-de-xira-municipal-library-miguel-arruda-arquitectos-associados?ad_source=search&ad_medium=search_result_all
Shaily Parikh
Author

Shaily Parikh is a Final year Undergraduate Thesis student in School of Interior Design, CEPT University, India. Throughout her Five-year academic journey as a design student, she has developed her interest in the field of Research and Writing about the Subjects like Interior Designing, Architecture and History of Design.

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