Part 1 – Architecture & Afghanistan
The Difference Between Architecture and Engineering
Half-a-century war and conflicts in Afghanistan have wiped out the definitions of architecture and engineering. In Dari Persian, the term for an architect is (مهندس). When someone wants to build a house, they reach out to the architect. An Architect must have a mixed knowledge of science and art to calculate a project scientifically, such as climate, physics, and aesthetic definition through art. In addition to that, an architect must be able to analyze a project’s economic aspects. Architecture and engineering have several divisions and branches that one can pursue professionally, such as interior design, landscape design, urban planning, structural engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, etc.
Despite all the efforts in the last two decades, today, it is difficult for the afghans to distinguish between an architect and an engineer. Therefore, there is a severe necessity for the activities and training to raise people’s awareness.
A Brief History of Architecture in Afghanistan
Afghanistan has never had its own specific architectural style because it has been an agricultural country. In such countries, the primary objective of life had been to stay alive. Therefore, the people of this land have had a basic life, and very little architectural development had occurred. People were not thinking so much about having a bigger house, beautiful bathrooms, or high ceilings. The priority was to farm and fulfill the basic needs of life. One village was farming something while the other village was farming something else, and they were trading goods with each other; that is how life had been going on here for hundreds of years.
Furthermore, the geographical location of Afghanistan had made it a center point of trading; therefore, many powers were encouraged to invade Afghanistan. When they did so, each of them brought their own style of architecture with them. When they came, they needed to build palaces according to their own culture and architectural style.
However, the sense of change to Afghanistan’s architecture started from the 8th century when Islam came to Afghanistan. Historically, most of the focus and investments have been on buildings that have had either religious or defensive purposes such as mosques, shrines, or guard towers throughout the world.
The reason for that was to portray the greatness of a religion or a power. This is where Architecture plays a crucial role. A building exhibits different messages from different angles and spots. These messages are not necessarily only religious or political, but the way of life.
We can witness the architectural monuments that were influenced by Islam in Balkh, minarets of Ghazni, Herat, Ghor, with their own specific styles and purposes. But they were very limited to some monuments, with fewer impact on people’s lifestyle.
The impact of architecture on people’s lifestyle started sensing when the new kingdom started in Afghanistan in 1774, followed by the invasions of the British Empire. We can see the British style buildings that the British Empire had built in British India (Today’s India and Pakistan). The British Empire spent most of its time in Afghanistan in war rather than development. Lack of stability in Afghanistan did not allow the little that were built to be preserved.
Afghanistan’s architecture was manipulated every time it was invaded. The Darul Aman Palace, Chehel Sotun Palace, Taq-e-Zafar, Wazir Akbar Khan houses, Macroryans several other examples show how they are different from each other and each style speaks of a different country and culture. However, the continuous war never allowed one style to continue and grow in a more sophisticated way, thus remain premature.
The major destruction and cleansing of Afghanistan’s architecture happened in the 1990’ during the internal conflicts. Worse than that was the death and fleeing of the architects and engineers we had then. The Taliban’s regime in particular was the darkest period of Afghanistan that put it in a six years sleep and disconnected from the world.
From all the cities of Afghanistan, Kabul is the only city that had had architectural evolution at some level, as well as the most destruction.
The live video of Ferdous Samim and Matiullah Rahmaty talking about Architecture and Afghanistan
A brief story of the current state of Architecture in Afghanistan
After the US invasion in 2001, there has been a dramatic change in Afghanistan. The internal conflicts and war turned Afghanistan into a blank paper. Afghanistan suddenly was connected to the world, and a gigantic pile of money and resources were poured here.
The needs of the people were raised; for homes, and infrastructure. In this period, three development trends started;
- The International Community: The international forces played a key role in the construction industry of Afghanistan. They came to Afghanistan with a set of international architectural and engineering codes and standards for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. In addition to financial support, they also trained dozens of architects and engineers throughout the years in multi-million dollar projects.
- The Afghan Government: The newly-established government of Afghanistan had a plan, and an agenda for rebuilding Afghanistan, as well. However, the codes and standards they were using were outdated that went back to 70 years.They tried their best to go parallel with the international community, but mismanagement and corruption did not allow it to raise a level of capacity suitable for the country.
- The People: A lot of people returned to Afghanistan after a long time of being away from the country prior to US invasion. Particularly the returnees from Pakistan. They had experienced a better lifestyle there and came back with bigger families and wider experiences of life, as well as financially better equipped.
Despite billions of dollars of investment in construction industry by the international assistances and the government, the architecture scenery of Afghanistan took a false direction. The International community and the government mainly focused on military and government infrastructure; function-based and not visible to the people to have an impact to the architecture style. On the other hand, the major impact in shaping the new style of architecture of Afghanistan was from the people’s side.
The returnees were used to a relatively modern life, and Pakistan was their best source of design, as well as Iran at some level. The lack of architects and engineers in Afghanistan forced them to get the designs and the skilled labor from Pakistan. There were very few skilled laborers who could implement such “modern” designs. In a very short time it became a trend and the rest of the people followed their lead. In a very short time, a lot of money arrived in Afghanistan, and everything needed to be done very quickly. Respecting the codes, standards or analyzing the buildings’ strength against earthquake and other design factors were the least important matter. That’s when these “Pakistani” designs started to grow in Afghanistan, particularly in Kabul.
The current architecture style of Afghanistan is a lot better compared to 2001 and 2010. Today, with a lot of professional and experienced architects in Afghanistan, we are in a very sensitive and critical situation and it is up to these cadres to determine the fate of architecture in Afghanistan.
A perspective of the way forward
It is challenging to say that we will restore our identity because we do not have our own architectural style. We must make one. At Taak Inc., when we design a building, people defined it as a Turkish or German style. They are not wrong. On the other hand, it cannot be true because we are designing a building with respect to the climate and the cultural factors of Afghanistan. We must create our architectural identity, and now is the best time to start. To have a glance at the future and maintain an architecture identity, we should focus to strengthen four aspects;
- The Government Entities: Any government entity that is either directly or indirectly involved in architecture, engineering, and art need a comprehensive reformation. Despite having access to the state-of-the-art technology and well-financed, they are going in an ill direction.
- Educational Institutions: The current education system’s pace is nothing compared to where the world is today. The governmental education entities, in particular are yet using outdated syllabus and very little effort is put in improving it. The private institution, however, have had some significant improvements in the last few years.
- Private Sector: The private sector is yet dependent in funds and grants. The bureaucracy and corruption have had a major impact in not allowing the private sector to grow their capacities. Most of their resource are exhausted for securing a project and little remains for technical development.
- Public Education and Awareness: No matter how high the capacities of the government and private sectors are, if there is no input/assistance/active participation of the public, the efficiency will remain low. In order to improve this critical part, all the three above elements play a crucial role.
The instability in the country, corruption and exhausting bureaucracy in the government entities have been the key-players in slowing down the architecture and construction industry in Afghanistan. Since most of the educational institutions are also governmental, these factors have not allowed them to stay on the game as well. This problematic phenomenon has rooted to the private sector and to the very bottom, to everyone’s daily lives.
Afghanistan being an agricultural country is now a history. Today’s Afghanistan demands a lot more, and for that, it requires a substantial reformation within the government, our educational institutions, the private sectors, and most importantly, the citizen’s mindset. We are living in an era where accessing any kind of the latest information is the easiest in the history of humankind. What better time to determine the fate of Afghanistan’s architecture style than now?