Extreme Urbanism (7), Imagining an Urban Future for Ishkashim, Afghanistan

Bordering Tajikistan and within the province of Badakhshan, one of the most natural disasterprone area in Afghanistan, lies Ishkashem. The name, Ishkashim stands both for the district and its capital, which is in a fertile valley that counts 20 villages engaged in cultivation, 3000 meters above sea level and carries a population of a 15,000-inhabitants.

Within an adverse context and region at risk of devastating hydro-metrological disasters including landslides, glacier lake outbursts, avalanches and earthquakes, Ishkashem nevertheless lies in an important strategic area along the border with Tajikistan. It commands the only route between Badakhshan, Shughnan and Wakhan that is accessible during winter season. This location at advantage will only get reinforced by the new multimillion-dollar investments from regional donors on a super highway trade corridor from China to Pakistan cross-cutting into Badakhshan province—including the 108km highway from Ishkashim to Baharak districts. For Ishkashim, this means a booming cross-border bridge and a resulting market hub – a condition that has already been in existence where all sides have engaged in robust trades, business and services for many years. Thus, Ishkashim (both on Afghan and Tajik sides) is increasingly considered an area of economic growth and of opportunities, offering a potentially safe habitat with sustained stimulus for livelihood and well-being. Ishkashim’s municipality is consequently in need of planning for these prospects, to foresee basic services (housing, critical infrastructure, vocational skills building, municipal services, etc.) that will absorb the marginalized and at-risk communities relocating from other disaster-prone areas.

This studio aims to imagine an urban future for Ishkashim that is responsive to its context, challenging the otherwise banal imaginaries of what urban life should look like. Tapping into the rich rural arena in which Ishkashim is located, the studio will seek to encourage speculation that anticipate the implementation of necessary physical, social, cultural , ecological, and economic infrastructures. Prospective programs of the Afghan government in Ishkashim already foresee teachers’ housing units, a traditional sports center and an airport, which should be integrated—and possibly deployed, to propose an inclusive, intelligent, and sustainable plan for Ishkashim as a ‘model town.’ The goal is to turn Ishkashim into a city and a community that can confidently embrace the future, aware of the challenges of the region (i.e. climate change, social and political instability, gender discrimination). The studio output,it is hoped, will propose strategic and tactical designs informed by the complexity of the site, building upon knowledge acquired through the semester via constant dialogue with local partners complimented by research exercises. The multi-scalar approach of the studio will allow for several types of outputs, from architectural projects to public policy strategies and propositions.

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