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The Architecture of Stratification: A Museum of Photography in Edinburgh's Old Town

Part 1 Project 2011
Philip Galway-Witham
University of Edinburgh Edinburgh UK
The project brief was to design a museum of photography in the Old Town of Edinburgh. In a vacant site situated in a dense urban fabric, the project required the issues of photographic curation, the role of the archive, and sensitivity to urban context to be addressed. Within the Old Town there are few places where one may pause and congregate. Libraries and museums are some of the few remaining truly ‘free’ spaces, proving locations where one may congregate in the public realm. Therefore the second move made is providing a new civic layer in the site, a plane social interaction, placing elements, programs and opportunities in a new open realm. This is coupled with the creation of a corridor, providing accessible pedestrian flow from Waverley Station to the Royal Mile.

The site holds four sites of archaeological ruins from various centuries and essential to the project was a response to these ruins and their significance on an urban and architectural level. The urban remnants found in the site; homes, shops, a tannery, provide a unique opportunity for the public to view and experience strata of culture and history in the old town. The position taken was that these ruins are to be preserved, protected and open to the public. The ruins are protected by atria that rise up out of the building, providing natural light to civic and circulatory spaces.

A strong connection can be made between the incompleteness and fractured nature of archaeology and photography. Both practices glimpse a whole that is never fully viewed.
The site, along with the wider scope of Edinburgh’s Old town, is a constantly changing urban fabric that reinvents itself with every epoch. Flowing from this, the intervention is conceived as not locked in time but fluid and susceptible to change and designed to anticipate it. As such, in years to come, the roofs of the building will become platforms upon which further galleries and public spaces can be added. These additions will become the new strata of the site following the ongoing trends in expansion, addition and layering of material and function.

Philip Galway-Witham


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