Tucson, Arizona firm Line and Space recently shared with us their competition proposal for the new National Museum of Afghanistan developed over the summer of 2012. Inspired by the basin and range geology of Kabul and incredible archaeology, the design features architecture that is derived from Afghan soil by means of stone clad conical elements rising from the landscape that are evocative of an atypical approach to the standard museum typology. Designed to provide a dramatic yet serene and secure place for visitors to learn about the country’s amazing and complex history, the various strategies employed by Line and Space offer up some interesting concepts that celebrate the incredible treasures housed within. More details after the break.
The visitor approach to the Museum starts with a descent into the earth along a timeline highlighting specific events of the past. An underground Arrival Building orients and directs visitors across a bridge over a visible “excavation” to the Museum. Exhibits are housed in individual galleries, arranged chronologically in time around an outdoor contemplation garden. At each gallery, visitors can choose to view period-specific introductory exhibits or fully immerse themselves in the artifacts and information located within. Sheltered by the earth, collection storage and conservation occurs underground at a secure, non-public, lower level of each gallery.
Offices and workspace for museum administration and staff are located in the “Back of House” area underground, and have a direct visual connection to the outdoors through gardens and natural daylighting.
The design offers clear way finding and circulation for both site and building. Visitors and staff arrive at the parking lot by car or coach through a single, secure entrance off Darulaman Road and immediately head to the main gateway to the museum grounds, the Visitor Control Center. Once past security screening, one can choose to proceed on a descent along a historic timeline towards the dramatic conical forms of the new Museum or take a new loop path to explore the gardens or outdoor exhibits around the existing museum building.
At the end of the descent along the historic timeline is an underground Visitor Arrival Building, which offers a second layer of security screening and orientation to the Museum. Visitors and staff then cross a visible metaphor for an “archaeological excavation” into the main circulation loop of the building. From here, visitors have the choice to ascend or descend the galleries arranged in chronological order around a central outdoor Contemplation Garden. Natural light is evenly distributed within the conical shape of each gallery and is supplemented by exhibit focused task lighting. Interpretation is mounted on partitions around the perimeter base of each cone, creating a chase behind exhibits that allows for the distribution of mechanical and electrical needs specific to each space. Exhibit displays are crisp and modern, set against the backdrop of exposed concrete which lends a rough and archaeological sense to the interior of each structure and provides thermal mass to passively cool and heat each gallery. Public amenities such as the library, lecture area and café are placed at the midpoint of the circulation loop connecting the galleries.
Exhibit storage spaces underground are afforded the highest layer of security and environmental standards for preservation of the collection. Storage consists of two levels (the floor and a mezzanine) within the lower floor of each conical gallery. The archival level is organized by artifacts being stored below the gallery related to their time period above. Circulation between storage areas is provided in a loop form, similar to visitor circulation between each gallery space.
The existing plant palette of the museum grounds is utilized for new complementary landscaping. Renovated gardens to the north remain for the enjoyment of visitors and new peach, apricot and almond trees flank the entry path into the Museum, providing shade from the southern sun as visitors make their descent into the new facility. Conical forms grow from the Museum’s earthen roof vegetated with native grasses. Within the museum building, a landscaped contemplation garden with integral water feature offers visitors an area of respite, contemplation, and relaxation. Rainwater harvested from roofs will be stored for use in irrigation and grading and hardscape will promote storm water collection and percolation to recharge the aquifer.
Utility and energy systems will be designed for reliability and low maintenance and are located in secure and monitored locations at an outdoor Service/Equipment Yard and underground Plant Room. Many passive environmental concepts are integrated into the design of the Museum to conserve natural resources which include; ambient daylighting of galleries through north facing oculi, exhibit focused lighting (task based) with low ambient lighting levels, photovoltaic power supplement, rooftop water harvesting to underground storage tank for use in irrigation, gray water re-capture for use in toilet flushing, earth integration along three sides of structure, earth sheltered roof planted with native grasses, and optimized reverse insulation between thermal mass and protective stone veneer.