The winning design, announced in late February, came from a small architectural firm in Argentina called M2R, and takes its aesthetic from ancient Buddhist monasteries. As one of the three lead designers, Nahuel Recabarren, told “It was easy to fall into the trap of making a gloomy building that was only about the destruction of the Buddhas. In the end, we decided that we didn’t want to create a building that was a monument for a tragedy but rather one that worked as a meeting place.” The project, he said, “creates multiple interior and exterior spaces for contemplation but also very informal and lively spaces for people to enjoy.”

The design team also didn’t want the Bamiyan Cultural Centre to dominate the landscape and history of the area. Much of recent architecture has become obsessed with image and visibility, Recabarren said, but in this case, “instead of creating an object to be viewed and admired we decided to make a moment of silence: a space where architecture was not an object but rather a place. Our building has a subtle presence because we wanted life, history and people to be the protagonists.”

To that end, the center will be almost entirely underground. Because Buddhist monks carved spaces into the mountain in ancient times, Recabarren said, he and his team wanted to acknowledge and reinterpret that tradition of excavating the natural landscape rather than building structures upon it.

“We are interested in the fact that voids and negative spaces can have an even stronger emotional presence than built objects,” he said.