BORIS BOGDANOVICH, INTERNATIONAL CONSERVATION ARCHITECT
Many people dream of finding adventure in their daily lives; few people push themselves to find it; fewer still manage to combine it with work that is meaningful and rewarding.
Boris is an architect by training and a specialist in historic building conservation. His wide-ranging skills and intrepid curiosity have now taken him to Afghanistan, where he is working with a British NGO, Turquoise Mountain.
Boris’s job is to help local teams to rebuild and regenerate one of the historic cores of old Kabul. Restoration is managed using traditional methods and local materials, and the projects include everything from houses to schools to health clinics.
Why do you do what you do?
“Well, I think culture and heritage have a lot to teach us and are really important, especially in a post-conflict situation. There’s that idea, that “culture feeds the soul”, which I totally agree with.
“But it’s also very important to me that what I do is highly practical. It’s not just beautiful, it’s useful: we’re helping people to improve their everyday reality.”
You have been in Kabul for several months now. What has surprised you about your time in Afghanistan?
“I suppose I’ve been struck by how life sort of “finds a way”. There’s this perception of Aghanistan, that it’s incredibly troubled, which it is; that life here is impossible, which it can seem; that it’s dangerous, which it can be. But despite all that it is a fascinating place, and has a unique lens on art and culture because of being at the crossroads of so many different cultures, and so often being the place where nations have met or clashed.
“Today, for example, I came across a sculpture of a 2nd Century AD Buddha figure at the National Museum. People forget that Buddhism was a major religion in Afghanistan for a long time. However, the Greeks have also passed through this country, and the design of the figure was basically that of a Grecian sculpture, reflecting that legacy of collaboration and sharing of ideas.
“On a day-to-day level I have a sense of working at the coalface, so to speak, with people who really care about what they do, and who are doing really meaningful work.
"I feel very lucky to be here. On the downside, security is frustrating. I’m trying to learn Dari (the local language) and to grow my beard as quickly as possible so that I can hopefully pass as an Afghan and be less conspicuous and therefore more free to explore.”
This current project will last for 2-3 years; do you have a plan or ambition for what comes next?
“I definitely want to continue working with Turquoise Mountain, because they have such a wonderful approach and a proven reputation. Plus we work in such fascinating places where no day is ever the same. I dream of delivering my projects in Kabul well... it would be great to take this to other countries, perhaps Bosnia and Herzegovina where my family is from. The work that Turquoise Mountain does is suited to anywhere that people are divided and where culture can unite.”
Is there any particular philosophy that guides you in your professional life?
“I’ve always admired the attitude of people who are masters of their craft, who have really focused on perfecting a particular set of skills, who really care about their product and take pride in it. I think it is easy to be a pluralist these days; but it is much harder to be able to focus and know meaningful details.
"The other day I met an old-school Afghan architect - a ‘master of his craft’, very serious, bit dour but quite amazing. He was saying how he wanted every person in his team to know the weight of a single brick. And I know exactly what he means - that level of intuitive knowledge that comes from hard, mindful, excellent work. It’s relevant whether you’re designing a building or making an omelette.”
And how do your mornings start these days?
“Well, normally with me rushing out the door with a breakfast sandwich (fresh Afghan naan with peanut butter and honey) stuffed in my pocket and a cup of coffee in the car to work.
“But Afghans eat breakfast in the office, so I sometimes join my colleagues who order street food. My favourite are Afghan Eggs, which is a dish a bit like Turkish shakshuka, but even more delicious – a savoury, chunky, thick sauce of tomatoes, onions, red peppers and garlic, all very slowly simmered down, with eggs cracked through it, making beautiful lines of white and yellow. You scoop it straight out of the communal pan with fresh naan.
“Afghans also love liver for breakfast – but then so do I!
"And of course there are the more acquired breakfast tastes, like kalapacha, a soup made from all the bits of lamb that are usually left behind– feet, head, eyeballs…
- they all get cooked into a kind of broth. It's quite delicious if you can manage the floating bits!“
Turquoise Mountain’s work in Afghanistan is funded by the British Council’s Cultural Protection Fund, which gives donations to projects all over the world in support of heritage that is both tangible and intangible.