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Argentinian team wins Bamiyan cultural centre contest

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An Argentinian team led by Carlos Nahuel Recabarren has won UNESCO’s hugely popular competition for a new cultural centre in Bamiyan, Afghanistan

Work on the £1.6 million scheme will ‘start immediately’ according to statement by the competition organiser.  

The partially submerged structure will occupy a 26,000m² site overlooking the historic Hindu Kush and the empty niches of two giant statues of Buddha which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.

The single-stage contest – open to registered architects and multi-disciplinary teams – received 1,070 design submissions making it the fifth most popular design competition in history.

The competition for a new Guggenheim museum in Helsinki set a new record last year after receiving more than 1,700 submissions.

Design contests: total entries

Helsinki Guggenheim: 1,715
Grand Museum of Egypt: 1,557
Vietnam War Memorial: 1,421
Stockholm Library: 1,170
Bamiyan Cultural Centre:  1,070
Pompidou Centre: 681

The Argentina-based winner team – which also included Martínez Catalán, Manuel Alberto and Franco Morero – will receive the top prize worth around £16,000.

Four runner-up teams from Turkey, France, Cyprus and from the Netherlands will also receive prizes worth around £5,000 each. The Dutch team incldued AA part 2 graduate Graham Baldwin and TU Delft graduate Alessandra Covini.

Announcing the winner, UNESCO Afghanistan director Paolo Fontani said: ‘This competition was an opportunity to create a new pattern for architecture, design and cultural development in Afghanistan. It is one of our objectives to make sure that the Afghan people recognize themselves in the design concept.’

The jury praised winning scheme for its ‘well-conceived plan’ and ‘very sensitive site strategy that produced an elegant entry sequence and minimal visual impact on the site.’

Source: Produced by UNESCO Afghanistan/Omid Zaki

Bamiyan Cultural Centre Design Competition

According to its description, the chosen design will create ‘a new vital centre for communicating and sharing ideas’ within the historic district.

The statement continued: ‘Our proposal tries to create not an object-building but rather a meeting place; a system of negative spaces where the impressive landscape of the Buddha Cliffs intertwine with the rich cultural activity that the centre will foster.

‘This primordial architectural strategy creates a minimal impact building that fully integrates into the landscape, takes advantage of thermal inertia and insulation of the ground and gives a nod to the ancient local building traditions.’

The 2,200m² building is expected to feature a gallery, theatre, research area and classrooms.

The statues – known as the Buddhas of Bamiyan – were carved into sandstone cliffs during the sixth century when the area was the most westerly point of Buddhist expansion.

Various countries and international bodies have pledged to support the statues’ reconstruction since they were dynamited 13 years ago.

The project is backed by the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture with financial support from the Republic of Korea.

Judges included Afghani architect Zahara Bereshna, Architecture for Humanity co-founder Cameron Sinclair and Elizabeth O’Donnell – the acting dean of The Cooper Union in New York.


  • Ahmet Balkan and Emre Bozatli of Turkey

Runner-up: Ahmet Balkan and Emre Bozatli of Turkey. Image courtesy ArchDaily/UNESCO

Source: Image courtesy ArchDaily/UNESCO

Runner-up: Ahmet Balkan and Emre Bozatli of Turkey. Image courtesy ArchDaily/UNESCO

Project description: ‘The idea of unity is enhanced by simplicity and silence. We propose simplicity in terms of the entire architecture, a vital compression, in which the hawli along an outward structure is proposed as a starting point for future adaptation and extension. It is a bare-architecture, a backbone-architecture to be filled with life; an abstract, undecorated, non-imposing architecture which leaves freedom to its users as to how to use and transform the edifice into the cultural centre of collective will. Simplicity rather than excess is foreseen in terms of construction. Given that funds are extremely valuable and limited, in a context of social conflict and deep economic suffering, we propose a straightforward construction based on 3 materials: concrete for the structure to span large and flexible spaces; locally produced baked brick as the main building material belonging to this place and sustaining local economy, ecology, and tradition; and local stone for a refined flooring fit for a cultural centre this nature.’

  • Noel Dominguez, Zoe Salvaire, Agathe Culot, Anna Kampmann and Alexandre Ferron of France

Runner-up: Noel Dominguez, Zoe Salvaire, Agathe Culot, Anna Kampmann and Alexandre Ferron of France. Image courtesy ArchDaily/UNESCO

Source: Image courtesy ArchDaily/UNESCO

Runner-up: Noel Dominguez, Zoe Salvaire, Agathe Culot, Anna Kampmann and Alexandre Ferron of France. Image courtesy ArchDaily/UNESCO

Project description: ‘The BAMIYAN CULTURAL CENTER (BCC) is comprised of rich and fascinating program elements integrated into a site which is remarkable both for its landscape and its history. Our project aims to honor and promote the sharing of this preeminent cultural, landscape and historic heritage, even as it provides the Afghan community in Bamiyan and its visitors an exciting and powerful tool for the collective writing of history to come. The BCC program is organized like a village – buildings (“program blocks”) are arranged around interior streets (walkways and views toward the near, medium and faroff landscape). Situated in the prolongation of the existing urban network (police and TV station), the project preserves built continuity. Although the BCC facilities in the vicinity are obviously incomparable, the “program-blocks” are of a scale close to the pre-existing buildings and fit harmoniously into the context.’

  • Costas Nicolaou and Constantinos Marcou of Cyprus

Runner-up: Costas Nicolaou and Constantinos Marcou of Cyprus. Image courtesy ArchDaily/UNESCO

Source: Image courtesy ArchDaily/UNESCO

Runner-up: Costas Nicolaou and Constantinos Marcou of Cyprus. Image courtesy ArchDaily/UNESCO

Project description:  ‘This proposal looks at the notion of culture beyond the poetic explanations that were embedded by different approaches and to read it means to understand it within social and political context. Bamiyan as a post-traumatic city has experienced political conflicts that have dominated its physical environment. The cultural voids of such trauma are embodied not only within the memory of its people but exist as the absence of “cultural space”. Although often romanticized, this suggests that the notion of culture is something more than social and the claim of it can become the apparatus for political conflict. The Buddha Cliffs, are such examples in which the productive space of culture is marked with the absence of its main treasures, the Buddha Statues. Taking into consideration four main artifacts that are part of Bamiyan’s local environment the Cultural Center is proposed as an archipelago of these elements, creating a new way of reading both the historical monument of the Buddha Cliff and the entire city. These elements are: firstly, the walls as physical borders that frame their housing units. Secondly, the plantations that create a mosaic that re-defines the landscape. Thirdly the “invisible” but yet formal passages that are found in the surrounded area that also re-configurate the city’s DNA and finally the cliff as an element of both natural and artificial context.’

  • Graham Baldwin and Alessandra Covini of The Netherlands

Runner-up: Graham Baldwin and Alessandra Covini of The Netherlands. Image courtesy ArchDaily/UNESCO

Source: Image courtesy ArchDaily/UNESCO

Runner-up: Graham Baldwin and Alessandra Covini of The Netherlands. Image courtesy ArchDaily/UNESCO

Project description:  ‘The project is composed by a series of carved out rammed earth walls that emerge from the ground. The rich materiality of the walls reflect the landscape, fusing the monolithic forms with the environment.  Each wall is abstract in form and defined only internally by a series of carved out niches, enclaves, passages and services that serve as the infrastructure for the cultural centre. The walls take this form and earthly appearance as not to compete with the program of the cultural centre. Staged between the walls are spaces for performance and exhibition, working and research. The architecture in between is open, maintaining views over the Bamiyan valley, and framing discourse between programmatic adjacencies. This architecture lends itself to the living walls and the cliffs where the buddhas once sat. It does not try to compete with nature and with itself, but exists only for the people as a way to stage their cultures.’




  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • Dear Community,

    In response to the unfair and unprofessional decision of Jury to select the winner and runner-ups in this competition, on 18 February 2015, we hereby officially complain, to the respectable organizers of this competition. Regarding the competition brief, many criterion and important facts have been neglected and ignored by the Jury members, and their final decision shocked most of us, as professionals. We believe, it is unethical to call the professional architects from all over the world, to put their energy, time, money and give their free ideas; and in response to their effort Jury decide to declare projects for winner, which seem to neglect many points and criteria mentioned in brief.

    We believe, and have seen definitely in our professional lives, even if all the entries lack essential needs of a competition, there must no winner be announced. In that case Jury declare the most reliable projects, and ask for further works in 2nd and even 3rd round.

    To sign the free petition use link below.

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