Bamiyan Cultural Centre - International Open Ideas Competition


After a long period of turmoil, Afghanistan is beginning its second decade of democratic governance. The emerging government has had to manage ongoing instability while taking steps to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, which has been devastated by over 30 years of conflict and neglect. Further exacerbating these rebuilding challenges is the geographic isolation and limited access to resources of some parts of the country.

While the rehabilitation process in Afghanistan typically focuses on infrastructure, rebuilding can also advance the goal of national unity by promoting positive public discourse and cross-cultural understanding. As a result, ethnic diversity can be seen as a collective benefit, rather than a source of fragmentation and conflict.

To this end, UNESCO and the Ministry of Information and Culture of Afghanistan, with the generous financial support of the Republic of Korea, are implementing a project to build the Bamiyan Cultural Centre. The Centre will be located near the boundary of the World Heritage property, the Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley. The purpose of the project is to promote heritage safe-guarding and cross-cultural awareness, and thereby contribute to the broader aims of reconciliation, peace-building and economic development in the country.


Agriculture has recently seen a boost from “local sourcing” in food production. Communities involved in this shift are not seeking self-sufficiency but a gradual reduction on their dependency on non-local sources of supply. This stimulates peri-urban organic agriculture but it could also be an opportunity to look differently at our cities. Taking a fresh look at Soar Island could be a unique opportunity for the city to reclaim it and turn it into a new destination, both locally and globally.

The project aims at proposing a new Community Farming Hub on the island.


The proposed Culture Centre is formed around a pattern of traditional public and private courtyards defined by a simple warm pallet of thick earth walls with deep carved openings and delicately crafted timber and glass screens. The enlivened courtyards evoke the typical social nature of daytime and evening events through their connections to the activities in adjoining rooms.


The local climate has influenced the building's north to south orientation. The courtyards take advantage of the southerly aspect and warm throughout the day, whilst very few rooms face south in order to avoid overheating. To the west, the education and research spaces gain morning and daytime sun. The public community spaces are oriented west to gain evening warmth and the sun setting over the valley views.


Creating a Sense of Community

A south facing entrance provides a warm invitation into the Centre with immediate connection to the central exhibition courtyard and the public tearoom and retail area close by. The Tea House Terrace faces out towards the Bamiyan Valley and gives visitors their first glimpse of the amazing views from the hilltop vantage point.

Also within this initial public space is access to the education hub with four flexible classrooms opening out onto their own enclosed learning courtyard for adaptable workshops and seminars. The research centre is co-located fostering natural interaction between the classroom element and research elements. The research courtyard is located around a quiet garden with many offices facing the spectacular views to the north. This creates an attractive resource for national and international academics.


The design places one of the smallest but most important rooms at the northern pinnacle of the plateau. The library and it's external viewing terrace expresses the importance of retaining and passing knowledge forward through generations in a peaceful reflective setting. It connects the centre to the historical context of the World Heritage Site in a respectful way.

Fine arts, traditional crafts and musicians are brought together using adaptable spaces. The musicians room and backstage area work together to create a unique rehearsal and performance space; they afford a warm evening outdoor terrace. Visitors can enjoy level access throughout the centre.


Positive visual impact

The centre sits low on the upper plateau with a series of interlocking volumes subtly writing its silhouette. The Performance Hall is a gentle aspirational gesture visible from the town in the valley below and nurtures a reassuring relationship with Bamiyan. Locals and visitors enjoy events, gatherings which can start from the pathways at the bottom of the valley which provide a more informal entry point. By its materials the building blends into the landscape.


Locally Sourced Materials and Craftsmanship

Rich natural colours and textures embed the building into the surrounding landscape. Rammed earth was chosen primarily for the ability to construct and maintain the building using local knowledge and materials, whilst offering stable indoor air temperatures via thermal mass. The structural openings and roof spans are achieved with standard timber lengths. The larger spans of the Performance Hall and Exhibition Hall will utilise traditional vaulted and domed techniques with an earth/cement mix.

Roof access stairs have been provided to allow for potential rain water harvesting and the installation of a solar array as the project time scale and future funding progresses. The maintenance store and water tank can be accessed easily from the car park. Thirty spaces are oriented in such as way as to enable easy future expansion and vehicular access has been provided to the Research Collection Storage and also to the Main Exhibition Hall for art loading.

Courtyards encourage people to commune and therefore the sharing of ideas and knowledge germinates. The workshops and the exhibition courtyard aim at promoting local fine arts, traditional crafts and expertise. The configuration of the education spaces is flexible enough to encourage international visiting artists and students residencies. The Culture Centre will help Bamiyan become a destination for local and international learning.