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Bamiyan Cultural Centre (Bamiyan, Afghanistan, Competition)


Bamiyan is a testimony on the symbiosis coexistence of nature and human. Here nature is not conquered for human consumption in a hedonistic manner but elegantly and sustainably utilized for human comfort evidenced in its vernacular architecture and culture. Although the two are in contrast from one another, this harmony is vividly displayed in its physical properties. Nature provides canvas through its vastness and earthly colors to be accented by the vivid color of spices, traditional clothing, rugs and many others, including nature’s own wild flowers.

The proposed Bamiyan Cultural Centre is to capture this harmony. Instead of creating a huge singular building, the centre is broken into smaller sizes inspired by how people of Bamiyan settled in the area in the form of terraced housing settlements. Here each of the house is built next to one another creating what seemingly organic form with leftover open spaces providing natural light and gathering space. Similarly, the centre is broken into smaller pieces based on the program and arranged in the same manner. Open spaces provides opportunity for daylight and courtyard gardens. Smaller pieces are easily erected using local building expertise and technology by local manpower.

The proposed building is located on the least desired spot on the site. That is the sloped area spanning the two flat plateaus. Flat and level areas are precious space for gathering to celebrate cultural and community events. The upper level area has a huge flat open space where it can be used for larger events such as music concert, buzkashi game, wrestling contest among others while the lower level area are intended for smaller and more intimate events such as wool spinning, barak weaving, Silk Road music festival, etc. as well as a place for a shaded outdoor garden.

The two plateaus sandwich the building where cultural education and arts are preserved and on display. The building acts as the connection between the two plateaus and provides procession from an upper level larger gathering space to a lower level plateau with its stunning view toward the Buddha Cliff protected by the cantilevered and/or elevated portion of the building shading an outdoor garden.

It is imperative to be labor intensive in building the centre to contribute to the local economy. To be labor intensive, it must use local expertise and technology. Material selection becomes a very important element of the building design. The proposed building uses rammed earth pakhsa concrete as the singular material for the building’s floor, wall, and roof. Pakhsa is abundant, cheap, and familiar. Concrete is another common material that provides durability and longevity. The combination of the two becomes the proposed solution. Although it is not the most cost effective to build a building on the sloped portion of the site, furthermore with some portion of the building being cantilevered and/or elevated, it provides important benefit to the local economy, creates a much needed shaded space, and allows a better use of the plateaus for the community.

The thick rammed earth pakhsa concrete shapes each smaller piece of the building block. Each piece consists of thick slab, walls and sloped roof. The floor is utilized as a radiant heating floor with hot water running within the snaking tubes cast in the rammed earth pakhsa concrete floor. The walls are thick exterior and interior walls, in some locations up to 60 cm. The interior walls act as thermal mass, storing heat during winter and absorbing heat during summer. The 30 cm thick exterior walls provide enough mass to fend off heat during summer and retain internal heat during winter. The roof is sloped diagonally towards the opposite corner where it directs to another lower building block or open space for drainage from snow melt or rain. Some of the southwest and southeast sloping roofs receive photovoltaic panels to generate electricity and to heat water for both domestic use and radiant heating floor. Some of the northeast and northwest sloping roofs are green roof with local drought resistant vegetations. The green roof will help cool the building during summer and retain heat during winter. The rest of the roofs are rammed earth pakhsa concrete roof. The PV panel, green, and paksha roofs provide composition of textures and natural colors within the majority of earth color building, mimicking the natural terrain of Bamiyan.

The exterior walls are punched by windows, some in clear glass and some in color. The windows are generally narrow vertically oriented window to deal with the harsh sunlight during summer as the strategy already used in the local buildings and cave dwellings. More expansive glazing is used for entrances and internally oriented exterior spaces such as courtyard and light well to the outdoor garden below. Colored glass is used to create accents on the exterior and interior of the building reinforcing the vivid color of spices, traditional clothing, and wild flowers of Bamiyan culture and landscape. North and east windows are mounted flush to the exterior wall allowing light and heat to enter the building and reflected off the interior sill during winter to help heat the building. South and west windows are mounted flush to the interior wall to let light and heat to be reflected by the exterior sill prior to entering the building through the glass keeping the building cool during summer.

The outdoor garden below the cantilevered and/or elevated portion of the building is terraced on the slope of the site to stabilize the slope. This strategy is also used locally to stabilize the hilly site of both local settlements and fields.

By incorporating proven local strategies, the proposed Bamiyan Cultural Centre will be a modern addition to the city yet remain rooted to the harmony of human and nature created by the people of Bamiyan. Labor intensive strategy combined with the use of local technology allows the centre to contribute to the community through an improvement of the local economy from the beginning of the construction until its completion and beyond.

Note: See entry here.