The Bamiyan Valley (Screen grab via Youtube)

The Bamiyan Valley (Screenshot via Youtube)

It’s rare that architects have the opportunity to design a building for a UNESCO World Heritage site — much more so for one recently devastated by cultural destruction. But that day has come. In collaboration with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Information and Culture, UNESCO has launched a competition to envision a new cultural center in the Bamiyan Valley, where the Taliban destroyed two ancient statues of Buddha in 2001, Dezeen reported.

Architects have up until January 22, 2015 to submit their design for the Bamiyan Cultural Centre, a “multi-purpose state-of-the art cultural complex and research facility.” Among its many functions, the $2.5 million building will house exhibitions, store archaeological and ethnographical artifacts, and host festivals, plays, and civic meetings that “cultivate cultural exchange” among the country’s ethnic groups. The winning architect will integrate the area’s rich history and landscape into an innovative, environmentally-conscious design that uses local materials and construction methods.

(Screen grab via Youtube)

(Screenshot via Youtube)

Situated on the ancient Silk Road at the Western edge of Buddhist expansion, the rocky Bamiyan Valley was a thriving artistic and religious hub from the 1st to 13th centuries. Caves in its cliffs have turned up some of the earliest known examples of oil painting. “[It] bears an exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition in the Central Asian region, which has disappeared,” UNESCO’s website explains.

After decades of war in the region, the center could help bring back new cultural production, protect heritage, foster democracy, and ultimately inject much-needed economic development in the region by drawing tourists. “The future of Bamiyan should be built,” a local says in a video about the project. “We need development. Buildings should be constructed and tourists should make trips to Bamiyan.”

The designs will be judged by seven jurors, including the Afghan architect Ajmal Maiwandi, CEO of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, and Elizabeth O’Donnel, dean of New York’s Cooper Union School of Architecture. The project is being funded by South Korea, which will award the winner with $25,000.

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Laura C. Mallonee

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...