Contest organized on behalf of the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture, the National Museum of Afghanistan and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
The strength of this Design Proposal rests on the balance that has been achieved between the architectural form and the presentation of the collections that will be housed in the proposed new Museum building. This has been achieved by an exterior appearance that is distinctive yet understated and which responds to the local context, along with a coherent scheme of interior spatial articulation that takes into account the nature of the materials that might be displayed. Moreover, the design is a relatively simple building solution that is both affordable and realistic to construct with the materials and skills locally available – this design will enable the collection to be safely stored as soon as possible. The clear and simple circulation concept, along with a degree of modularity, results in an efficient spatial arrangement for staff and operations that also provides a degree of flexibility in responding to changing needs and variation of displays.
In their presentation, the designers seem to have given as much thought to the exhibitions as to the appearance of building envelope, which is discreet and does not compete with the existing National Museum premises or other buildings in the area. The proposal is one of the few that creates interior spaces that respond effectively to the brief, while providing a basic, well-proportioned shell within which a number of display configurations might be considered, with effective and realistic use of the intense natural light of Kabul through the intelligent use of the internal courtyard and ceiling baffles. This consideration of variation and drama – the two most important assets of a gallery space – would be a delightful surprise to the visitor moving through this deceptively simple shell. Through its use of parallel brick vaults to roof the building, the designers have sought to draw on vernacular forms and materials, as well as on uses of natural light. The Jury felt that, although the design’s application of exterior decorative ceramic tile was not particularly successful, the use of such traditional materials could be revisited and effectively utilized with this design. The use of traditional materials is generally cost effective in terms of construction costs and maintenance and also supports the preservation of these traditional skills and the craftsmen who practice them. The human scale of the proposed new museum building is not intimidating, and has the potential to welcome visitors and encourage them to spend time inside or in the adjoining garden, where appropriate additions have been proposed that have the potential to link the existing with the new. In summary, the First Prize Winner is a bold and thoughtful response to the technical and aesthetic requirements of the brief, and it has the potential to result in a building that is both efficient and affordable and, as a national institution, to be a source of pride for future generations of Afghans.