The proposal for the National Museum of Afghanistan by Paul Preissner Architects reconsiders the method of the museum, which is dedicated to collections of historic artifacts and archeological evidence of past cultural moments. By allowing for the collection to be endlessly linear, and removing the separations between items in an era, eras in a past, and pasts within a culture, the museum incorporates a significant number of breakthroughs. The architects do so in terms of the architectural design, the notion of a cultural campus and the design thinking on curatorial endeavors, to revolutionize the way a museum works today. More images and architects’ description after the break.
This museum presents the work in quiet individual inspection, while allowing for some grouping and curating of eras to occur. The design is based on a very clear concept of relatable objects in a park, and a park within a culture, with the various gardens, pavilions and central museum all allowing for leisurely enjoyment, and peaceful review of history in order to facilitate its contribution to the present. The objects sit within a park of objects; the old museum, the existing gardens, the new sculpture park, the train and automobile pavilion. The unique size and patterning allows for the museum to be both quite and clearly significant in the scheme.
The museum is conceived of as a strong and personable object within an enclosed cultural plaza. Situated at the west end of the site, the museum is a strong and fluid geometric shape that produces moments of personality and deformation in an otherwise normative circular shape. With the program of the museum divided into two volumes close enough to be considered “kissing.” At the region of touch, the two buildings produce visual peaks, producing site way finding and individual identity, encouraging the journey across the site to discover the pleasures and curiosity of the slightly unusual shapes.
Once inside, the museum reveals itself to be full of visual pleasures and contrasted exhibitions, showcasing a wealth of history in a setting that feels slightly unusual, clean, messy, contemporary and ancient at the same time. Our proposal looks to allow for individual review of the collection, while also understanding each objects role in the entirety of its history. Each museum offers a sculptural courtyard for reflection and tranquility. The administrative courtyard exists in the lower level of the southern (smaller) building, while the visitors can experience an enclosed patio in the smaller building, and an open air courtyard within the main museum volume.
The master plan for the site offers the opportunity to create a retreat within a culture, in order to experience the meditative environment that allows for history to reveal meaningful connections with everyone’s present. The site is therefore conceived as an enclosed park of objects, with the objects taking on varying sizes, whether they are pavilions, park benches, cypress tree enclaves, classically landscaped parks, or the museums themselves. Each object is designed to feel personable and massive at the same time. This allows for a unique emotional experience for each visitor, and enables both an individual experience and a collective journey.
Starting with the visitor entry into the designed parking facility, the user is taken away from the present world and enters through the main gates into the campus, where everyone is greeted with the surreal and visually stunning plaza and its grid-lined cypress grove. The cypress trees serve to unify the objects, and allow for a common visual element while one explores the offerings of the plan. A 5m high masonry surrounding wall enclosed the campus, and provides the uniform elevation (5m) that all pavilions, towers, and the museum align itself too resulting in a spectacularly retrained visual horizon, only punctured by the expressive moments of the new museum, the cypress and the restored institution.
The scheme of the plan, as objects in a park, allows for a relaxing and deeply thoughtful consideration of the role of history as both serious and casual, part of the past and inseparable from today. This setup allows for the museum to provide the most profound reveal, and offer the novelty and excitement of a stranger, with the comfort and support of a close friend. All from a building!
The museum design is the result of a formalization of history to create an endless loop through what was and reveal itself to be both familiar and alien. As the two largest, heaviest, and most striking objects in the park, the entrance and educational facility and exhibition halls of the museum are designed as two perfect loops in plan, and curiously expressive in volume. The peaks offer individual identity within the normalcy of the building. Organized in a single floor of exhibition space the museum appears slim and low to the ground with a roof line of 5m, that wildly deforms upward where the two volumes meet. Similar to the mountainous background, the building offers a horizon one can relate to, and be compelled to approach.
The facade is articulated in an expressive graphic pattern of slotted panels, that provide relation to the pavilions on the site, and allow for the volumes to have relatable scale. In the evening, the color pattern reverses as the thin slots glow in the night sky and provide the visual warmth of a village center. Inside the museum one is greeted with an impressive expression of construction, as the thrust of the roofs creates generous entry halls. With the expressed concrete forms in the ceiling being intermittently accented by lighting, the space feels alive and sober at the same time. The warmth of the marble floors contrasted with the geometric novelty and visual articulation of the ceiling provides the mood that makes the consumption of history fresh, and upon open eyes.
The connection between the smaller volume and larger offers two magnificent spaces as a result of the supple roof form, creating a breathtaking entry hall and main exhibition hall. The main exhibition halls unique height allows for the exhibition of truly unique works, including excavated earth sculptures, buddhas, and other oversized works of art. The lower level with a separate staff entrance is dedicated towards administrative and all curatorial and storage functions.
The landscape design of the project is incredible simple in order to reinforce the profound experience of the museum and pavilions in the park. Rather than outline paths and gardens as separate functions of the plaza, the entire surface is simultaneously hardscaped and landscaped with grass pavers, allowing for users to identify their own circuitous route, or enable direct approach without impediments. The grass pavers are planted with plains grasses requiring little irrigation and no maintenance.
Reinforcing the universal aesthetic of the plaza is the cypress grove which spans the site, the stunningly tall thin trees spaces at 10min grid intervals participate in the park in a culture visual motif and provide background for the novelty of the pavilions and museum itself, as well at the existing building and garden. The nature of the trees allows for minimum maintenance, and offers the feeling of a dense grove without impeding view lines needed for security.
Architects: Paul Preissner Architects
Location: Kabul, Afghanistan
Client: Islamic Republic of Afghanistan/Ministry of Information and Culture
Program: Master Planning, National Museum Complex, Educational Facilities, Gardens, Dining, Guard Towers
Area: 4.25 Hectares (Site) / 17,000 SM (Museum Complex)
Status: Design 2012 (Competition)