Bamiyan Cultural Center in Afghanistan

 Nikolaos  Karintzaidis, Intl. Assoc. AIA

The Bamiyan Cultural Centre forms a communal space for exhibitions, training, research and education, bringing together the remarkable history of Afghanistan and its contribution as a crossroads of different civilizations.

The design of the Cultural Center seeks to create a new landscape rooted to the ground, through an earthed space that integrates the building into the cliff. This continuous coverage with the existing topography underlines the importance of the natural landscape and results to a building that is designed to be an extension of the remarkable site, allowing the preservation of Bamiyan, Afghanistan's natural beauty.

The project's concern with deep sustainability grows out of the fragility of this landscape, and reflects the core values of community life and history of the place. Connecting literally and figuratively to the site, the excavated volume aims to become integrated into the landscape rather than just occupying it. Subsequently, the building itself organizes the environment that surrounds it. The intended result is not flamboyant architecture but a building that will act as a mnemonic mechanism.

The void of the Buddha niches becomes a starting point for the form development, highlighting the action of constructing from the void and the negative space. As the statues and the monastic caves were hewn out of the cliff, so does the Cultural Center that is set against them. Submergence of the building is a direct reference to the study of the past and the buried antiquities still waiting to be found as the building itself awaits to be discovered. A unifying roof rests like a carpet covering the building and gathering all functions under it. With an accessible roof surface, the Cultural House invites people in and encourages exploration.

The interior spaces 'break' through the ceiling and become part of the roof composition as their openings draw in light below. From the outside the institution appears as a green area unified with the surrounding landscape, but from the inside is coherent and efficient. The result is an expressive shape that finds equilibrium between the massive scale and the human scale.

Two axes extending from the west and east Buddha niches cross on the building's plot and form the basis of the architectural composition. These two reference lines define the main pathways that connect the two borders of the site ?" the view and the entrance. On a symbolic level they highlight the role of Bamiyan as the crossroad of the ancient world, emphasizing also the intersection of ancient cultures.

The two paths further cross and connect two elliptical shapes that are the main assembly places of the community. The two ellipses have their major axis length matching the height of the "Solsol" and "Shahmama" Buddha respectively and define a concave space engraved to ground and a convex space arising from it.

The pathways define a triangular floor plan that houses the public and extroverted functions in dialogue with the facing Buddha cliff and the city, whereas the private and introspective facilities are distributed behind them. The public path that crosses the building acts as the main stem achieving an efficient interconnection of spaces and enhances the synergy of all the communal facilities.

Funding for cultural projects is often neglected in conflict zones. This is in part because their results are usually not visible in the short-term. However, cultural rights are human rights and a sense of shared cultural attachment is arguably a prerequisite for achieving sustainable peace. The design of the particular project strengthens the idea that building a nation through cultivating culture is an important way to sustain peace and advance positive aspirations for the future. This will help people move beyond conflict, reclaim their shared heritage and step towards building a peaceful future.

Image credits


Nikolaos Karintzaidis, Intl. Assoc. AIA