A design concept submitted to the 2012 International Architectural Ideas Competition for a New Design of the National Museum of Afghanistan.




The design concept for the National Museum of Afghanistan responds to the paradoxical condition inherent to any museum—its dual function of protecting and displaying. The museum simultaneously operates as a container and a connector, preserving works of art, as well as constantly reinterpreting content and redefining its own image. As an expression of national identity, the National Museum directly emanates from the depth of its land. The viewer enters through a garden, integrating the landscape into the structural design of the museum.

The experience of visiting the museum is a well-orchestrated sequencing of space, inviting the visitor to pass through a succession of diverse and impressive spaces. From the entrance lobby, the path to the galleries takes the visitors up through a spiral form, transgressing the basic logic of containment walls. The structure of vertical walls negotiates the museum’s paradoxical function–offering a separation and protection of valuable historical and cultural artifacts from the outside, as well as a dynamic system of exhibition for the museum’s collection. Passing from the hypostyle foyer to the double-height space of the main gallery, the sequence continues by way of a slow rising ramp, moving through the Achaemenid, the Great Kushans, the Early Islam, the Timurid, the Ethnographic and the Contemporary galleries.

The architectural strategy of the museum is one of peeling the walls to reveal the galleries at its core. Within this multiple layering of the perimeter wall, space is defined as both an inside and an outside. The potential reversal of inside and outside is rooted in the tradition of Afghan architecture, in which gardens are walled in and courtyards appear at the inner center of the Qala. The garden becomes an active part of the architecture, and courtyards distribute natural light through the adjacent spaces. In the proposed design, the successive movement through galleries ends at the central courtyard, the innermost space of the museum. The void of the courtyard, as the central element of the National Museum, reflects the current social and political conditions of Afghanistan. Following years of conflict and destruction, conditions necessitate a respect for the void, an acknowledgement of the presence of absence, and as such, the courtyard provides a positive, insular space.