Designing in Afghanistan Nov28


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Designing in Afghanistan

Over the past six weeks, the Arch 503 “Afghanistan Studio” has been developing design proposals for the Gohar Khaton Girls’ School located in Mazar-i-sharif, Afghanistan. The students have been asked to consider how to create an architecturally significant and beautiful school that responds to the local culture and climate in new and imaginative ways. In addition to developing meaningful and functional spaces for the girls, issues of cost, constructibility, and durability are also being considered by the students. Over the course of the quarter, the studio has participated in a series of reviews of their work by local professionals, as well as the board members from Ayni Education International, the aid organization responsible for funding and building the project. I’m sure that everyone in the studio will agree that designing a school for Afghan women has been a challenging and eye-opening experience. The process requires a constant shift between abstraction and reality, and the ability to work at different scales. Each team has submitted their “project statement” and mid-review images below.


1. Mariam Kamara and Yasaman Haji Esmaili

Located in the center of Mazar-i-Sharif, this project takes its queues from an awareness of the cultural expression of the city’s urban fabric, characterized by subtle spatial transitions. These transitions are internalized within the site by devising a journey that unfolds in the way spaces are connected and opportunities to create beauty are exploited. By using local earth-based materials, the buildings seemingly grow from the soil and produce a gradation of spaces reinforced by an interplay of light, and shadows. The project fully explores the potential of these materials to create structural continuity, control solar exposure, ventilation and provide flexible outdoor spaces for classrooms and community-based activities.


2. Ben Maestas and Sarah Eddy

Two elements of contemporary Afghan culture have been especially formative in the design of the Gohar Khaton Girls School. Notions of privacy embodied in traditional Afghan Qalas serves as a point of departure for our site plan of the school, while the addition of a poplar grove to the school grounds addresses deforestation and the lack of green spaces that characterizes Afghanistan, and Mazar-i Sharif in particular.  Four bars of classrooms, oriented to receive the southern sun, create a sequence of programmed outdoor spaces on the site, and also provide multiple views to the poplar grove. The use of poplars is also continued in the building, as a structural element in the the classrooms. In this way, a traditional material can become an important element in the school building, and the surrounding landscape.  A north/south orientation is important for controlling light and solar gain, with the use of large overhangs to block the summer sun while allowing it into the classrooms in winter. Placement of windows to light the chalkboard, and achieving comfortable daylighting for the classrooms has also been a focus of our design work. By insulating and sloping the roof, we have resolved issues of snow, and retained heat when needed. We hope to create a delightful space that the girls can be comfortably educated in while establishing a sense of permanence and ownership.

3. Marcus Crider and Carolyn Lecompte

Our design emphasizes “place-making” to celebrate the individual, the community, and the connection to the surrounding environment. It celebrates the gradient of public to private space, of activity, and of traditional earth architecture fused with modern strategies.

4. Andrew Thies and Chris Garland

This project seeks to combine two different building systems while using the strengths of each to create a new model for the Afghan girls’ school, which respects local tradition while adding socially and culturally respective activities to the school program. The first system uses Afghan vernacular construction for the classrooms; and the second is created using contemporary light frame construction sourced from the leftover dimensional lumber found in NATO bases.  This method creates flexible learning and gathering spaces while acting as a passive solar atrium for generating heat and gathering light for the surrounding classrooms.

5. Jaclyn Merlet and Holly Schwarz

Social interaction is very restricted for girls living in Afghanistan, with most interaction limited to their family network. The school carries a unique opportunity to foster friendship and camaraderie for Afghan girls. The classrooms are planned around a multitude of courtyard spaces that are designed to encourage socializing amongst the girls. A well and a reflecting pool are central to the main quad, with steps enclosing the courtyard for girls to sit and talk. Popular activities like volleyball and martial arts are played in the southern activity quad, while quiet, smaller enclosures are planted with gardens and trees.  The organization of classrooms and quads permits portions of the school to remain open for after-hours use, to encourage continuing education classes for women of all ages.

6. Mackenzie Waller, Michelle Kang, and Mazohra Thami

We envision a campus where girls and young women can foster not only knowledge but friendships for life – an environment that resembles the intimate and discoverable spaces of the urban bazaar.  Classrooms are grouped in clusters of 9, with sets of 3 sharing entry space to encourage familiarity among girls of different classes. Each of these clusters differ slightly in orientation and geometry, allowing the girls to create an identity for each. Through these intimate spaces that grow from a shared, main axis, we aim to create an urban microcosm that creates areas for young girls to share secrets, build friendships and ultimately grow into young women that can bring a sense of confidence to the greater Afghan community.

7. Grace Crofoot and Kevin Lang

Our project preserves the essence of what currently exists on the site—the general site layout, local building practices and materials, and the mature trees—and elevates it to a higher level of functionality and beauty that makes the girls excited to attend school.  As in the traditional qalat, the compound wall acts as a veil between the girls and the public, allowing them complete freedom within the school.  The classrooms are spacious, functional, comfortable, and naturally day lit. The courtyard is subdivided  into unique quadrants, lending individual identity to smaller, more intimate outdoor spaces within the larger campus that include wells, gardens, study areas, informal socialization areas, and activity spaces.  Special elements, including a computer lab and library, are placed centrally within the courtyard and help further define the outdoor places.

8. Patricia Wilhelm and Bryan Brooks

Women’s education is continually evolving and progressing in Afghanistan.  The school is a microcosm for the unforeseeable but promising future.  The design provides a framework and system of spaces that can grow, change, shift, expand, and contract in conjunction with women’s education.


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