Manar Moursi


This proposal was submitted for the competition organized by the UNESCO to design a Cultural Center in Bamiyan. Our concept 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.

Afghanistan has undergone a great deal of unrest and civil war over the past three decades. In this time, overgrazing and over-exploitation of the 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.I n 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 a Sunday market to sell their produce to visiting tourists. We did not want to design this and leave this part for stakeholders to design and build themselves.

We envision the Cultural Center to organize botanical educational 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 endemic and threatened plants – 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