Kabul Photo Biennale Exhibition in Babur Gardens ©UNESCO

Thematic Area 6: Architecture for public spaces 

During the last decades, Afghanistan has experienced political and social upheaval that has affected all levels of society.  At the same time, and partly as a result, Afghan cities are experiencing explosive growth as Afghan society transitions from a rural to an urban society in an historically normal process exacerbated by war and large movements of refugees and displaced persons.

This uneasy passage into modernity is nowhere more visible than in the development of the country’s cities and manifests itself in:

- the loss of technical and historical criteria with respect to the worth of the country’s built heritage, whether historical or contemporary;

- the adoption of ill-adapted and poorly understood foreign architectural typologies and techniques;

- the destruction of the country’s urban and architectural heritage due to the lack of respect for the social value of urban spaces generated by history and the disregard for traditional and vernacular architecture and materials;

- the loss of traditional know-hows and construction techniques;

- the present incapacity of government services to manage the country’s built cultural heritage and give it contemporary social relevance;

- the inability of government and municipal services to promote quality contemporary architecture via existing public tendering and construction programs.

The NPCE strives to support better practices by state and local authorities in the field of architecture and urban planning with an emphasis on public spaces. The aim is to improve the safeguard and management of what exists by endowing it with social and public relevance on one hand, and to promote better contemporary architecture on the other.

The means to do this are to raise awareness and build the capacity of government and local actors, as well as students of the departments of engineering, architecture and urban planning of Afghan universities; to encourage and support the organization of design and architecture competitions within the public procurement process at both national and local levels; to make known, through traditional and social media, examples of good practice in rehabilitation and new construction projects; and finally to preach by example through support to high profile public projects, such as the Bamiyan Public Park project (ongoing), the Bamiyan Cultural Center project (ongoing), the Bamiyan Archaeological Park (in early stage pending funding) and the rehabilitation and transformation of heritage buildings in Old City of Herat, and possibly other provincial capitals into socio-cultural infrastructure (under study).

This line of work presents numerous crosslinks with other Thematic Areas of the NPCE, as well as with other programs being developed and implemented by the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing, such as the upcoming Urban Support Development Program funded by the World Bank. As such, crosslinks to NPCE thematic areas are:

Thematic area 1 – The Right to Culture: empowerment through access to cultural heritage as embodied in historical public spaces and social participation in the shaping of contemporary public spaces.

Thematic area 2 - Better Higher Education: by the dissemination of good practices (sustainability, energetic performance, respect for vernacular models, etc.) through conferences and master classes at Afghan Universities (Kabul PU and Herat PU).

Thematic area 4 - Policies for the Protection of Cultural Heritage: by promoting policies and providing concrete examples of the “recycling” of historical buildings and spaces into social infrastructures such as public parks, public libraries and reading rooms, cultural centres, mosques, community centres, schools, etc.

Thematic area 5 - The Safeguard of Cultural Heritage: through awareness raising by spreading the idea that “heritage” is a continuous process and that heritage protection should be interpreted in a broad sense; that not only Timurid or Ghaznavid architecture can be “heritage” but also recent and contemporary architecture (pre-war industrial architecture; commercial bazaars from the 19th and even 20th century, etc.); Culture and heritage as a continuous process, and the duty to create a contemporary heritage through “better architecture” and better town planning.  

Thematic area 7 - Cultural Centres Network: the promotion of quality architecture through cultural center projects, such as the Bamiyan Cultural Center, whose design was selected through an international competition process; possible rehabilitation of the Silk Caravanserai and other landmark building in Old City of Herat as a cultural or community centers; support for other cultural center projects in Provincial Capital Cities.

Thereby linking up with one of the priorities set out in the Urban National Priority Program, urban regeneration, as well as in the Urban Development Support Program being formulated between MUDH and the World Bank.

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