Bamiyan Cultural Center Competition
Project: Bamiyan Cultural Center Competition “New Place In An Old World”
Type: International Competition: Architecture, Cultural Landscape, Heritage
Location: Bamiyan, Afghanistan
Size: ~10 acres.
Status: did not rank / Unbuilt works
Design team : Arjun Sharma, Mehul Sanghvi [blueKrit] , Neha Sanghvi [blueKrit] , Shaurya Dhedia
(link to blueKrit here)
The Bamiyan Cultural Center Competition was an international competition held and concluded last year. It presented many challenges with regards to Heritage, Archaeology, A difficult history and the Cultural Landscape of the place.
Here, I had the good fortune of working with wonderful co-designers Mehul, Neha and young Shaurya who brought diverse skill sets to the table.
Collectively, we were able to propose a solution that was deeply concerned with fighting for the continuation of the timeless domestic culture of the place, and maintaining the integrity of its cultural landscape in the face of massive developmental onslaughts that Governmental bodies, UNESCO and private developers brought along with their good intentions.
The resulting proposal was sensitive to the existing architectonic language of rural Bamiyan, desisted from being a large structure with walled boundaries, and tried to open up the site plot as a public park.
We did not rank in this competition. Nevertheless, we feel that this proposal raises important questions and contributes noteworthy ideas about the nature of development, sensitivity to the cultural landscape and architecture for posterity.
Do read the position statement in the end.
Five Salient Features of Design Approach:
Master Plan Strategy
The master plan strategy creates the context in which the architectural design will be located.
First, the land is treated as a continuation of the agrarian landscape, down in the valley. The site thus is not a blank canvas, but textured, nuanced fabric into which we interweave the structure, programmes and uses.
Next a section of the hamlet of the valley is re- interpreted for this site. The larger complex programmes are dealt with in a more camouflaged manner. Thus, we finally have a design language that reflects and pays homage to the cultural landscape.
Sequencing of Experience
The choreography of specific experiences heightens the sense of place. This sequencing in turn informs the strategy for zoning and overall site layout. To respect the sense of cultural setting the design programme isn’t rigid; however, certain measures are in place to maintain security and control over important aspects of the design.
1: approach. Site has two main pedestrian approaches, one vehicular access (main and service) for the upper area, and one vehicular access (service) for the lower area. As you enter the site, you walk through a fieldscape. These fields do not have straight lines of access but instead follow the lines of the fields forward. One approaches the main entrance building, which looks like a hamlet set an agricultural fields. This hamlet is built in a manner to retain the brown tint of the land. Every structure has a courtyard.
2. Moving to the exhibition. From the reception, a linear channel of flowing water leads you to a large lotus pond that lies on the axis pointing to the Buddha cave. This water body that offers flowers to the buddha. After a contemplative moment, one begins their discovery to the exhibition space. This journey is rich in symbolic allegory as the end is not a museum, but an education in history and geography.
The journey of going back in time starts travelling underground. Bamiyan’s archeological wealth is still unearthed. Bamiyan’s history is literally and figuratively underground, and one must travel below the surface to go back in time.
A subterranean spiraling ramp leads one under the water body into a chamber that is a prologue to the exhibition. This chamber depicts artworks that sequentially unfold the rich heritage of Bamiyan. These spaces are cave-like in order to echo the caves in the cliffs. It aims to enable the visitors to transcend time and space.
This gradual unfolding of spaces involves the perceivers into the process. Walking through the underground chamber makes the whole discovery very personal and intuitive. From the bottom of the chamber one is lead to a portal which leads to the exhibition, where all is light.
3. The exhibition and the auditorium. The exhibition and auditoriums are vaulted spaces that look towards the Buddha cliff. These very urbane programmes are underground but open along the cliff-edge so that its form and crowd do not disrupt the fieldscape above.
4. The urban park. The rest of the site is designed as an urban park in a rural setting. The site will be open to all for the people to enjoy.
The water body, The well and pathway
The water body: the waterbody is designed as a natural lotus pond that acts as an offering to the buddhinst cave. It lies on an axis that connects the main entrance of the hamlet to the buddha cave. All the buildings orient themselves to the cave through the water body. The waterbody also serves as the fountain head for the irrigation of the entire fieldscape design of the site.
The well is an important precursor to the exhibition space. Artistes will be invited to create impressions and art works that will interpret Bamiyans heritage. Will Serve as a philosophical transition between the new (the cultural landscape above ground) to the old (the historic spaces underground). The well and pathway is thus a cave like structure which echoes the light and tactile quality of the buddhist caves.
Site landscape Strategy
In a contemporary setting Institutional plots are large but public access is limited.
In the traditional setting, Private land parcels are small and privately maintained, but public access is unrestricted.
The site landscape has a sensible and relatable maintenance strategy, and will be a realm that will be part of the daily social order of Bamiyan, used and shared by all. The design is a fieldscape of potato and wheat fields. These fields are easier to till and maintain as the tools and skill sets for maintenance, and development is already in place.
A productive landscape will also justify the water budget in a zone that is poor in infrastructure.
Landless people of the Bamiyan valley and village are invited to (on lease) till this land and reap the benefits of their labor. the site contributes economically (with productive land) and socially (by making the entire site a part of the everyday life of the people of Bamiyan). The fieldscape shall also be an urban park for people to visit daily,
The site may still have a controlled access and even more controls within, but opening up the sites land to the old world will be an important step in the direction of respecting the existing society of Bamiyan.
“The Bamiyan Valley is a landscape which has evolved through geological formation and human intervention, and the process of evolution in their form and component features are still visible today. Even today, one can witness the landscape being continuously used, which retains an active so¬cial role in contemporary society of the local communities”
This excerpt from the nomination file submitted by the State Party in 2003, is of particular interest. Even today, Bamiyan “…retains its rural character and its attachment to the land. It is a patchwork of mud-house villages, potato and wheat fields…” .
This observation gives insight into what makes Bamiyan special. The present cultural landscape of fields dotted with brown houses and trees; pattering away for centuries in the shadow of Mountains and the Historic Artifacts; together create a rich, cultural and historic heritage landscape. It is this sum totality of place that deserves consideration.
One must note that this cultural landscape is not a visual language of architecture and landscape, but is also interwoven with the social order and lifestyle of the locals in Bamiyan. In such a context, the sense of tension that is created by ‘modern development’ becomes palpable. This development is not just one of new architecture but also of new planning measures that seem to come with it.
Consider for a moment the idea of inserting faceless institutions (TV station, heritage center, police department) into an old social order of fields and huts. Or of building compound walls around large plots that has a small footprints, and the built-form these plots allow. Or the notion of rapid urbanisation and changing the speed of time’s passage. Or growing tourism.
One certainly does not wish to criticize any of these institutions nor can one resist them in today’s climate. The question we wish to raise is that of “sensitivity.”
Is it possible for new development and structures to respect the existing landscape of Bamiyan?
Is it possible to create large institutions that do not cordon off the land, but instead give that land back in a way that honors the spirit of place?
Is it possible to think of the rural landscape as the anchoring element of development?
We feel acutely aware of the inherent paradox of the place making qualities that community centers, exhibitions, libraries, and auditoriums might create here. However, the question is not of resistance, but of sensitivity.
The design strategy for this project aims to respond sensitively to this aspect of inserting a modern, urbane programme in a rural environment that in many ways is still lost in time. To create a considerate new place in an old world.