Gohar Khatoon Girls' School

Architect: Robert Hull, FAIA and the University of Washington, Department of Architecture

Owner:  Sahar Education

Location: Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan

In Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan’s fourth-largest city, this new school replacing an older school in an extreme state of disrepair serves nearly 3,000 K–12 students per day. An urban oasis for girls and young women, the school also provides children critical access to fresh air, plants, and trees in an area experiencing rapid urbanization.

Girls’ schools play a major role in the country’s movement toward development, and Gohar Khatoon is positioned to be a key institution for educating several thousand women in an important urban center that is home to a number of universities. Empowering young women as they negotiate the transition into Afghan society, this project supports the process by providing a place of stability and comfort.

"This space and the process communicates a new era for girls and women very powerfully." ~ Jury statement

From the outset, the design team involved girls to help inform the program and choose finishes, developing a sustainable school model that values their input and choices about their environment. Because most forms of artwork were banned during the Taliban’s rule of Afghanistan, an important community-building activity during the design process was a women-only mural design competition. Six winning entries, installed by professional artists, are on view throughout the school.

Outside, the school’s façade takes its cues from the country’s rich history of masonry construction with red, yellow, and turquoise windows made by local craftsmen referencing the city’s famed Blue Mosque. Culturally appropriate activity spaces for physical fitness and social interaction between students surround the school. Educational gardening, a storied tradition in Persian culture, is pursued in areas where fruit-bearing trees and vegetable gardens are tended by students.

Sustainable strategies were key to the project’s success, given that Afghanistan’s schools are often connected to limited or unstable power supplies and operate on minimal budgets with little funds for heating fuel. As aid to the country dries up and NATO troops continue to depart, the team implemented a number of low-tech climate responses, such as central stairwells in each classroom block that capture heat and large seasonal doors that pull air through the building to provide long-term comfort.  

"It is remarkably resourceful by integrating natural sustainability measures while operating within a weak infrastructure in the country." ~ Jury statement

Additional information

Construction: Afghanistan American Friendship Foundation

Daylighting: University of Washington Integrated Design Lab

Engineer – Structural & Civil: Solaiman Salahi

Landscape: Afghanistan American Friendship Foundation & University of Washington

Metalwork: Argent Fabrication

Research: University of Washington students

Systems Research: Mariam Kamara

Ventilation: PAE Engineering


Lee Becker, FAIA (Chair), Hartman-Cox Architects, Washington, DC

Anne Marie Decker, FAIA, Duvall Decker Architects, Jackson, Mississippi

Susan Johnson, AIA, Strata, Kansas City, Missouri

Anna Jones, Assoc. AIA, MOD Design, Des Moines

Caitlin Kessler, AIAS Student Representative, University of Arizona, Tucson

Marilee Meacock, AIA, KSS Architects, Princeton, New Jersey

Robert Miller, FAIA, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Seattle

Sharon Prince, Grace Farms Foundation, New Canaan, Connecticut

Rob Rogers, FAIA, Rogers Partners, New York City

Image credits

Gohar Khatoon Girls' School

Nic Lehoux

Gohar Khatoon Girls' School

Nic Lehoux

Gohar Khatoon Girls' School

Nic Lehoux

Gohar Khatoon Girls' School

Nic Lehoux

Gohar Khatoon Girls' School

Nic Lehoux