Manar Moursi


Our design for the UNESCO Bamiyan Cultural Center seeks to celebrate this region’s rich history. Located at the cross-roads of the
Silk Road, Bamiyan epitomizes the intersection and meeting of diverse cultural traditions.

Over the years, one of the greatest achievements of Bamiyan was the construction of the largest Buddha statues in the world. Sadly,
in 2001 they were destroyed by the Taliban. Where they used to stand, now is a huge void. Inspired by this strong relationship
between solid and void on our site, our design concept addresses this duality, by aspiring to commemorate and appreciate emptiness
or void, a concept with a long history in Buddhist teachings.

Further, this idea of solid and void reads on another level in our site through the grid of agricultural fields which surround
the whole valley. Deriving from this grid, we decided to create our own 20x20m grid parallel to the Buddha cliffs. Our “solid” -
the main building program - fits onto this grid and the “voids” of our design become botanical gardens. These gardens were designed
with the intention to memorialize the unique botanical heritage of Afghanistan with over 3000 species much of which are endemic.

Our main building program rests on the upper part of the site to maximize the possibilities of views of the Buddha cliffs. Since the
climate in Bamiyan is mostly cold, with mild summers and long cold winters, we propose an environmental strategy for passive
heating using South-West facing rammed earth walls. South-West is the dominant direction of the wind and sun. Our thermal mass walls
will collect heat while also acting as wind-blockers. Further, the use of thick boundary walls and courtyards can be also read as
echoing the existing vernacular architectural traditions of Afghanistan.

The outdoor exhibition, classroom and workshop areas are framed with concrete panels carved with the pattern of an abstracted dog
creating a screen of sorts. This geometric dog is a common motif found on Persian and Afghan rugs and symbolizes protection and
trust. We felt it was important to project this message of trust to a community that has been somehow broken from several years of
strife and unrest.

As mentioned above, Afghanistan has undergone a great deal of unrest and civil war over the past three decades. In this time
overgrazing, over- exploitation of forests and woodlands have led to soil erosion that has reached partially irreversible stages.
Lack of information makes it difficult to monitor the state of erosion in these species. As Afghanistan is now on the path of
political stability, we thought it was necessary to emphasize through our Cultural Center the importance of developing sustainable
agriculture systems as well as systems of conservation of these national treasures.
In response to this, on the bottom level of the site we decided to continue to have the Southwest rammed earth walls and a grid
of agricultural and botanical fields. We envision the future 1000m expansion of the building to be added here and we also hope
to have educational programs related to gardening, science education, environmental issues and sustainable
agriculture. Attached to the walls, artisans and vendors from the town, can build small kiosks to set up for a Sunday market to
sell their produce to visiting tourists.

The Cultural Center can organize plant walks to help students and visitors learn to identify plants based on morphological
similarities and differences, and to learn the history of each of the plants – and their origins from different parts of the Silk
Road where a lot of exchange of species happened.

Project Team: Manar Moursi, Alia Mortada, Sherif Medhat, Mohamed Rafik, George Talaat