suckerPUNCH: Describe your project.
Matteo Cainer Architects: The construction of the Afghan museum celebrates the richness of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage and the spirit of its peoples. In a nation devastated by war, the wealth of its cultural background and the spirit of its peoples are embodied here. In spite of the years of conflict and turmoil, the underlying strengths of the country remain intact, embedded in the earth and rising from it.
The new National Museum of Afghanistan awakens the nation’s cultural heritage through powerful symbolic references, where physical fragments and traces inform us of its past. This concept is well illustrated in the “negative spaces” of the artist and sculptor Rachel Whiteread that highlight the memory of an object, rendering the invisible visible through a reversal of solid and void. Here this ‘absent presence’ is found in the day-lit foyer, a tranquil and serene space filled with water and greenery. Entering the main hall, each visitor defines their own experience of the museum, ascending the monumental stairs from the foyer at its heart, aware of the depth of knowledge expressed in the deep recesses of its masonry walls.
If the facade acts as a reflection of our society today, then the monolithic walls embody our history and culture. As if hewn from solid stone, the galleries bring to mind the very origins of space and knowledge. Each of the country’s eight significant historic periods is represented in a dedicated space designed to house representative artefacts. A perambulation through this sequence of spaces unfolds a voyage of learning and discovery. Carved ramps and stairs overlook the foyer with the sequence of galleries unfolding in an intriguing and complex geometry.
The new museum’s 56 metre square cube represents the significance of 7 and 8 in Islamic culture. There are seven verses in the Koran, here representing rebirth, and eight principal galleries in the program, the indeterminate open sky acting as a metaphor for the future.
The Timeless Cube embodies the strength, pride and traditions of the Afghan people, providing visitors with better understanding of the country. The new landmark will be a stage for debate and reconciliation through an educational program that creatively engages people of all ages in traditional and non-traditional learning. The history, identity and traditions of its peoples will provide the bedrock for future generations to understand the culture of their forefathers and a unity in the region.
sP: What or who influenced this project?
mC: Afghan traditional architecture and monuments, monolithic architecture, Rachel Whiteread.
sP: What were you reading/listening to/watching while developing this project?
mC: Reading Kapuscinski’s Travels with Herodotus. Listening to podcast lecture series. Watching Prometheus (2012).
sP: Whose work is currently on your radar?
mC: Didier Faustino, MOS, Tschapeller, Ensamble
Location: Kabul, Afghanistan
Client: Islamic Republic of Afghanistan/Ministry of Information and Culture
Program: Master planning, National Museum Complex
Area: 4,25 hectars/ 17,126 sqm Museum complex
Status of Project: Competition Entry