1232 National Museum

The Museum and walled garden are seen as a conceptual carpet, weaving all aspects into one integrated whole.

Client: International competition

Location: Kabul, Afghanistan

Design: 2012

Program: 16,500 m2. Exhibition, conservation labs, workshops, offices, storage and landscape masterplan

Cost: US$ 25 m


Chris Moller, Andrew Mitchener, Jon Monro
Chris Winwood,

Afghanistan is confronted with a huge challenge to rebuild a peacetime economy. The realisation of the New National Museum is an important part of achieving this incredibly difficult task. The challenges include critical security issues and building systems that operate independently off-grid.

This building hits these issues head on by providing integrated underground cisterns for a year water supply. The continuous curve of vault and reverse vault acts as an exceptionally strong structure to address earthquake risk. Integrated within the reverse vault are all circulation and servicing systems, including independent energy PV array, water and waste servicing requirements, so that the building can operate off-grid on a daily basis all year round. All of these capabilities have been thoroughly calculated.

The Museum and walled garden are seen as a conceptual carpet, weaving all aspects into one integrated whole.

The primary warps are north-south & secondary wefts east-west. The composition is made up of a field of vaulted modules like ‘knots’ in carpet making which are carefully proportioned to provide exceptional exhibition, conservation and storage environments. Informed by ancient Afghan traditions of craftsmanship, the spatial system is deeply informed by primary dualities; dark and light (night and day), summer and winter, material and immaterial, fixed and flexible, gardens, courtyards and buildings. This duality ensures a variety of differentiated qualities of spaces, light and material to enable staff and public to engage in many diverse ways with this extraordinary collection.

A specially designed prefabricated module was developed to inform all aspects of the building and gardens from light and space, material and structure, and future expansion. The entire system is assembled from locally produced high quality reinforced concrete elements, complimented with local stone infill walls, timber joinery and finishes. In plan the building is articulated in three wings; the north wing gallery spaces, central wing reception and services, and south wing staff facilities. The underground basement houses the conservation lab, workshops storage, back off house, cistern water storage, and maintenance facilities. The upper floor sits on a basement plinth two meters above ground at the front facade which together with the six metre high vaults provides gracious proportions for the arcade, reception foyer, galleries and staff facilities.