In a nation devastated by war, the wealth of its cultural background and the spirit ofits peoples are embodied here. Matteo Cainer Architects proposal for theconstruction of the Afghan museum celebrates the richness of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage and thespirit of its peoples.In spite of the years of conflict and turmoil, the underlying strengths of thecountry remain intact, embedded in the earth and rising from it.
The new National Museum of Afghanistan awakens the nation’s cultural heritage through powerful symbolicreferences, where physical fragments and traces inform us of its past. This concept is well illustrated inthe ‘negative spaces’ of the artist and sculptor Rachel Whiteread that highlight the memory of an object,rendering the invisible visible through a reversal of solid and void. Here this ‘absent presence’ is found in theday-lit foyer, a tranquil and serene space filled with water and greenery. Entering the main hall, each visitordefines their own experience of the museum, ascending the monumental stairs from the foyer at its heart,aware of the depth of knowledge expressed in the deep recesses of its masonry walls.
If the faade acts as a reflection of our society today, then the monolithic walls embody our history andculture. As if hewn from solid stone, the galleries bring to mind the very origins of space and knowledge.Each of the country’s eight significant historic periods is represented in a dedicated space designed to houserepresentative artefacts. A perambulation through this sequence of spaces unfolds a voyage of learningand discovery. Carved ramps and stairs overlook the foyer with the sequence of galleries unfolding in anintriguing and complex geometry.
The new museum’s 56 metre square cube represents the significance of 7 and 8 in Islamic culture. Thereare seven verses in the Koran, here representing rebirth, and eight principal galleries in the program, theindeterminate open sky acting as a metaphor for the future.
The site geometries and composition define the garden setting with a series of water features designed torefresh the air during the summer months. The orientation and planning of the museum introduces cool,shady areas for outdoor promenades, and the landscaping strategy enhances on-site bio-diversity andshaded meeting areas. The museum’s gardens respond to the intense climate of Kabul and include nativegrasses and indigenous plants. Landscaping includes a stepped garden with covered seating areas andadditional dedicated spaces for the museum’s educational programs, including tours, garden lectures andoutdoor performances.
A sustainable environmental concept determined the orientation, layout and design of the building envelope.The exposed concrete envelope introduces the required thermal mass, and the natural/displacementventilation and highly efficient lighting systems reduces the overall energy consumption and providesa passive internal environment. Above the main foyer, digitally controlled external sunshades respondto protect the interior from the intense solar gain, reducing cooling loads internally. The orientationand inclination of the building allows controlled daylight internally with the potential for solar harvestingtechnology and a renewable energy supply. Internal heating and cooling is achieved through boreholes/earthtubes or crypt cooling, allowing air to circulate through large diameter underground pipes that dischargeinternal heat build-up via a stack. Materials are generally specified to be sourced and fabricated locally.
Efficient use is made of the rainfall and humidity in the winter months. The soft landscape acts as a filter tocollect and store rainwater for irrigation and grey water use and the fragmented form of the envelope acts asa natural purifier that provides potable water for the complex.
A future extension to the museum is considered in the concept design and planning, so that additionalstorage areas and communicating spaces can be successfully added. An twinned volume extension to theexisting building is envisaged, with visitors following a mirrored circulation route, descending through thegalleries from above.
The Timeless Cube embodies the strength, pride and traditions of the Afghan people, providing visitors withbetter understanding of the country. The new landmark will be a stage for debate and reconciliation throughan educational program that creatively engages people of all ages in traditional and non-traditional learning.The history, identity and traditions of its peoples will provide the bedrock for future generations to understandthe culture of their forefathers and a unity in the region.