Bamiyan Culture Centre

Bamiyan, Afghanistan   2015

The Bamiyan Culture Centre celebrates the heritage of Bamiyan arts, architecture and culture. It works to construct, through reference to local traditions and points of the past, the passage of time around a place that in recent past has weathered too much destruction. The world heritage site that inspires a confluence of many forms of art and culture forms the backdrop. The building stands as the filter, a rhythmic colonnade, that measures the site like a planted forest against the carved cliffs. The proposed idea here is generated from a unique tension that arises at the edge of transformation, existing in the time and space of Bamiyan Valley. Is the centre a backdrop? or an idea? a backdrop of activities and events proposed?

In the breathtaking view of Bamiyan and Foladi Valleys, the heavy building forms a powerful barrier against the cold from the north while letting in the southern sun to passively heat the spaces. Natural heating, in addition zones of radiant heat also allows the building a more transparent, welcoming outlook to the south side where it receives its guests and participants.

The culture centre echoes the lines of the sedimentary landscape, whose layers in turn gently unveil the magnificent  Bamiyan cliffs. The site itself sits at the end of the journey of water from melting of the snow slopes, where it falls into Foladi river. The bund walls in the landscape scrape up earth to gather water within the compound, above the building. They also slow the speed of the overflowing water, reducing erosion of the cliffs, creating passage of easy movement. As the water evaporates, it slips back toward the bund, changing the profile of the waterbody as it is shrinks. The cliffs are lined with stone pitching, retained by a stone wall boundry with inclined brackets on the outside that work as the guided channels through which water will flow off the cliff. This piece of land, celebrated between momentary or sometimes even longer pauses of water and trickling drops off the cliff, gently resists the forces of nature by retaining earth at a regular interval and creating passages of activities and plantation. As much as it stands firmly on the ground, sometimes cutting through or sometimes along the contours, in its essence, the building rises out of the same soil, transformed into bricks and mortar, timber and iron.

The centre’s organization reflects people’s togetherness during activities when they come to celebrate the art and culture of Bamiyan, but also allows space for one to learn and wonder about various meanings of its ancient civilization. The linear arrangement of various functions reached by explorations of the various activities of this institute, creates many chances and incidents of joy, broken by the upward and downward passage through the site. The building receives its visitors with a warm cup of tea, sipping on the warm high plinth at the entrance lobby that separates and connects the permanent museum collection and the performance hall. While shopping and other services are tucked around the museum, the adjacent collection storage makes it convenient to move and store artefacts at the upper level. The passage of the temporary exhibition keeps you on the upper floor while taking you around the performances. The performance hall itself steps down to the lower level, staying along an outdoor amphitheatre. The tea and toilets again greet you at the same connecting lower level, while activities flow toward workshop, music room and class rooms. The ramp up or down moves to the upper level where quiet study and research can happen along with administration, which finds a shortcut in and out though a bridge to the main land.

Thick baked bricks laid on the stone rubble foundation define the space while the jack arch floor completes the form silhouette that evokes the sense of rock cut caves. The light steel columns repeats themselves into absence while glass receives the warm sunlight and visitors alike. On the north, thick wall protect from cold, while on south the layering of glass and bricks slowly transmits heat from only the low winter sun into usable areas. Inside and outside, walls are plastered, steel columns painted and wood polished. Local poplar wood forms thick columns, with doors and windows fashioned from walnut. Steel allows big spans in the otherwise simple construction system. The construction method uses systems native to the surrounding regions, while integrating steel for larger spans. Trusses provide a framework for lights, drapes, and artefacts. Black out curtains cut the light during daytime functions. Glass temperature is kept under check by using two layers with air trapped between, while heating is supported by solar heater operated radiant systems. Every space has its decentralized pumping and service room and its own solar power source with photovoltaic panels on each of the 4 blocks. The double roof is thick and light, waterproofed with membrane waterproofing where the snow falls on the  ventilated galvalium roof, adding to the insulation without melting. When it melts, it all goes down to a snow water storage tank located below the collection storage for drinking and utility purpose. The steel of the jack arch floor and columns ends before it meets the outside stop thermal bridging and a warm timber facade takes over. While the sewerage system ends into a soakpit on the northeast corner for rootzone treatment for plantations, the water supply happens from an overhead watertank located on the roof above the underground tank. The photovoltaic system generates enough power to fulfil the building’s energy requirements during the day, and if stored, after sunset too.

- our proposal for the Bamiyan Culture Centre Competition