matteo cainer's timeless cube: national museum of afghanistan
matteo cainer's timeless cube: national museum of afghanistan
oct 16, 2012

matteo cainer's timeless cube: national museum of afghanistan

paris and london-based firm matteo cainer architects have produced the ‘timeless cube’, a proposal for the national museum of afghanistan international competition. the construction of the afghan museum will celebrate the richness of the nation’s cultural heritage and the spirit of its peoples. in a nation devastated by war, the wealth of its cultural background and the spirit of its peoples are embodied here. in spite of the years of conflict and turmoil, the underlying strengths of the country remain intact, embedded in the earth and rising from it.


through powerful symbolic references, the new proposal awakens the country’s history, where physical fragments and traces inform users of the past. this concept is well illustrated in the ‘negative spaces’ of the artist and sculptor rachel whiteread that highlight the memory of an object, rendering the invisible visible through a reversal of solid and void. here this ‘absent presence’ is found in the day-lit foyer, a tranquil and serene space filled with water and greenery. entering the main hall, each visitor defines their own experience of the museum, ascending the monumental stairs from the foyer at its heart, aware of the depth of knowledge expressed in the deep recesses of its masonry walls.

matteo cainer's timeless cube: national museum of afghanistan



if the façade acts as a reflection of our society today, then the monolithic walls embody our history and culture. as if hewn from solid stone, the galleries bring to mind the very origins of space and knowledge. each of the country’s eight significant historic periods is represented in a dedicated space designed to house representative artifacts. a perambulation through this sequence of spaces unfolds a voyage of learning and discovery. carved ramps and stairs overlook the foyer with the sequence of galleries unfolding in an intriguing and complex geometry. 


the new museum’s 56 metre square cube represents the significance of 7 and 8 in islamic culture. there are seven verses in the koran, here representing rebirth, and eight principal galleries in the program, the indeterminate open sky acting as a metaphor for the future. 

matteo cainer's timeless cube: national museum of afghanistan



the site geometries and composition define the garden setting with a series of water features designed to refresh the air during the summer months. the orientation and planning of the museum introduces cool, shady areas for outdoor promenades, and the landscaping strategy enhances on-site bio-diversity and shaded meeting areas. the museum’s gardens respond to the intense climate of kabul and include native grasses and indigenous plants. landscaping includes a stepped garden with covered seating areas and additional dedicated spaces for the museum’s educational programs, including tours, garden lectures and outdoor performances. 

matteo cainer's timeless cube: national museum of afghanistan



a sustainable environmental concept determined the orientation, layout and design of the building envelope. the exposed concrete envelope introduces the required thermal mass, and the natural/displacement ventilation and highly efficient lighting systems reduces the overall energy consumption and provides a passive internal environment. above the main foyer, digitally controlled external sunshades respond to protect the interior from the intense solar gain, reducing cooling loads internally.


the orientation and inclination of the building allows controlled daylight internally with the potential for solar harvesting technology and a renewable energy supply. internal heating and cooling is achieved through boreholes/earth tubes or crypt cooling, allowing air to circulate through large diameter underground pipes that discharge internal heat build-up via a stack. materials are generally specified to be sourced and fabricated locally. 

matteo cainer's timeless cube: national museum of afghanistan
main entrance



efficient use is made of the rainfall and humidity in the winter months. the soft landscape acts as a filter to collect and store rainwater for irrigation and grey water use and the fragmented form of the envelope acts as a natural purifier that provides potable water for the complex. 

matteo cainer's timeless cube: national museum of afghanistan



a future extension to the museum is considered in the concept design and planning, so that additional storage areas and communicating spaces can be successfully added. an twinned volume extension to the existing building is envisaged, with visitors following a mirrored circulation route, descending through the galleries from above. 

matteo cainer's timeless cube: national museum of afghanistan



the timeless cube embodies the strength, pride and traditions of the afghan people, providing visitors with better understanding of the country. the new landmark will be a stage for debate and reconciliation through an educational program that creatively engages people of all ages in traditional and non-traditional learning. the history, identity and traditions of its peoples will provide the bedrock for future generations to understand the culture of their forefathers and a unity in the region.

matteo cainer's timeless cube: national museum of afghanistan
concept diagram

matteo cainer's timeless cube: national museum of afghanistan
function diagram

matteo cainer's timeless cube: national museum of afghanistan
access diagram

matteo cainer's timeless cube: national museum of afghanistan

matteo cainer's timeless cube: national museum of afghanistan



project info:


credit: matteo cainer architects
location: kabul, afghanistan
client: islamic republic of afghanistan/ministry of information and culture
program: master planning, national museum complex
area: 4,25 hectars/ 17,126 sqm museum complex
status of project: competition entry



designboom has received this project from our ‘DIY submissions‘ feature, where we welcome our readers to submit their own work for publication. see more project submissions from our readers here.


  • Elemental! Primordial! It has captured its antecedents with gravitas.

    Kenneth Smythe says:

    or not says:
  • I like it. It’s fabulous!

    karma says:

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