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Architects provide know-how for Afghanistan

The tower was originally planned for Kandahar (brnic-graf-rossbauer.com)

Three young architects from Switzerland are to build a tower housing student meeting rooms and accommodation at Bamiyan University in Afghanistan.

They are due to travel to Bamiyan on Wednesday to discuss the project with local authorities and university representatives.

Ivica Brnic, Florian Graf and Wolfgang Rossbauer, who are all in their 20s, won a competition run by the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich to mark its 150th anniversary next year.

Even though they strayed away from the original brief, their project, Polynational, won ahead of 48 other competitors.

“The task was to build a pavilion for SFr500,000 ($398,500) to be set up on the terraces of the Federal Institute in Zurich,” Graf told swissinfo.

“But we thought the money would be better invested in a sustainable project with a global vision.”

Graf said he and his student colleagues were not interested in “architecture for the sake of architecture”, but wanted to respond to real needs.

People can watch progress being made at the construction site in Bamiyan via the web.

Four-storey tower

The three architects have designed a four-storey rectangular tower measuring 500 square metres at the base.

It is similar in style to traditional buildings found in Afghanistan’s second-biggest city of Kandahar, which lies in a region prone to earthquakes.

The planned building includes meeting rooms, a library, computer facilities, a terrace and student accommodation.

Graf said Polynational was the result of “high-tech thinking and low-tech production”. The building is technically complex but uses material from the area and relies on local craftsmen.

Polynational takes into account the climate of Kandahar – hot summers and cold winters – and has an inner shell of reinforced concrete and an outer mantle of clay bricks.

“It is a mixture of Afghan traditions and modern Swiss architecture,” added Graf.

From Kandahar to Bamiyan

But because of the uncertain political situation in Kandahar, the project has been relocated further north to Bamiyan, a town renowned for its huge Buddha statues destroyed during the rule of the Taliban.

“This region is much safer than other parts of Afghanistan,” said Mario Fontana, a professor at the Federal Institute of Technology and member of the competition jury.

The Zurich institute is also involved in a project constructing a three-dimensional model of the Buddha statues.

During their fact-finding mission to Bamiyan, Brnic, Graf and Rossbauer will try to determine the exact needs of the local university.

They expect construction work to begin next spring and to complete their project in November 2005 in time for the anniversary celebrations at the Federal Institute in Zurich.

The architects intend to leave the building management to local experts, hoping to contribute to the transfer of Western architectural know-how to Afghanistan.

“It is important to involve locals in our project. At the moment all the effort in reconstructing Afghanistan goes into engineering work,” said Graf.

swissinfo, Pierre-François Besson

In brief

Three young architects in Switzerland are building a meeting centre at the Afghan university in Bamiyan.

Their project won the first prize at a special anniversary competition run by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

Around 18,000 people from 80 countries work and study at the Federal Institute, which has won 21 Nobel Prizes.

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