Winning Design of the Bamiyan Cultural Centre ©M2R Arquitectos | UNESCO

Bamiyan Cultural Centre Project 

The Bamiyan Cultural Centre project aims to create a centre for art and culture in Bamiyan and will function as a hub to support cultural diversity and the creative industries in Afghanistan.

The project is the cradle of a long-term vision of the NPCE, where UNESCO aims to build a network of cultural centres from different provinces in Afghanistan to enhance the exchange of cultural practices and enjoyment for generating a sense of social unification through culture. 

The Bamiyan Cultural Centre project will contribute, at community and national levels, to discussions on identity and the value of cultural diversity in all its local, national and international forms of expression. The process may lead to the creation of a platform for a clearer understanding of a nation’s identity and what it aspires to achieve in the future. The purpose of such a process would be to re-establish models for weaving back together the threads of civic society.

Being one of the most oppressed ethnic groups during Taliban times, the people of Bamiyan are particularly receptive to change and development interventions that will improve their lives. They have hopes of a brighter future and are ready to try innovative solutions which might improve their life. The Bamiyan Cultural Centre represents an opportunity to be part of this hopeful vision. It was in this context that the Bamiyan Cultural Centre was initiated with the generous financial support of the Republic of Korea. UNESCO together with its partner Ministries of the Government of Afghanistan and other international and national organizations has been implementing the project which is contributing to the building of a cultural centre in Bamiyan, the promotion of creative industries and the establishment of a creative hub in Bamiyan.

Phase I of this project was agreed on the 26th of November 2013 between the Government of the Republic of Korea and UNESCO and Phase II was agreed on 22 December 2016. Phase II provided additional funding necessary to continue with the construction of the award-winning design for this Centre, specifically to build the Educational Building where the workshops and trainings for tangible and intangible cultural heritage enhancement can take place to foster small and medium enterprises. In mid 2017, the Afghan Government also contributed to the Phase III of the project, in the view of creating a public park around the building.  

With new funding from the Government of Korea under phase II, and also with the funding from the Afghan Government, the Bamiyan Cultural Centre will provide a cultural centre that is functional, welcoming and will serve as a modern display space for housing archaeological and ethnographic artefacts from the province. The Centre’s temporary exhibition space will showcase contemporary artworks from across Afghanistan. The auditorium will provide an adaptable space that can be used for an extensive variety of purposes, such as music and film festivals, conferences and lectures, which will ultimately benefit many stakeholders from a wide demographic, ranging from young school children and visiting scholars, to national and international organizations.

The site where the Cultural Centre is being built is located on the plateau of Chawni Hill, neighbouring an Afghan National Police station, a television station, and a Ministry of Culture building which is no longer used. The land measures approximately 50,000 m2, with the surface of the levelled area of the site approximately 26,000 m2. The north and west part of the site overlook expansive views of the Buddha Cliffs and Buddha niches, a point of paramount importance to residents and tourists to the Bamiyan valley. The northern and western limits of the site are bounded by the Foladi River at the base of the hill upon which the centre sits. The eastern and southern limits of the site border local municipal buildings. The main entrance road approaches from the south.

Since the site on which the project is being implemented has international and national importance (in front of the niche of the Buddha statues of Bamiyan that were destroyed by Taliban in March 2001 and currently a World Heritage site), it was decided that the design of the Centre would be selected by an independent Jury through an international design competition.

This would not only ensure the protection of the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the World Heritage property but also harmonize the appearance of the building with the surrounding natural environment and cultural landscapes of Bamiyan. This led to the selection of a state-of-art design which was much more expensive than the simple school-like building which was originally foreseen for the Centre.

The two-month design competition gathered an astonishingly large number of design submissions, in total 1070 from architects in 117 countries. The competition was recognized as the third largest architectural design competition in the world, in terms of the number of submissions. The result was reported widely by the Afghan media and by an array of international sources including Al Jazeera, BBC and CNN, as well as a large number of websites, blogs, professional pages, etc. across the internet.

The independent jury, consisting of a number of world renowned architects and cultural heritage experts, selected the design of an Argentinian team (M2R) as the winner.

(See The winning design was endorsed by the Afghan President on 18 February 2015.

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