'Journeys to relive your past?' was the Khan's question at this point, a question which could also have been formulated: 'Journeys to recover your future?' ­

- Italo Calvino

Publish date: n/a

Format: online article 

One stop on the Silk Road, Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, China, sparked much discussion and subsequently became a case study for subsequent workshops that explored responses to cultural heritage later in the project.


‘Prison for Culture’ is a 1000 word illustrated article that examines the radically different attitudes to cultural heritage that has made Mogao Caves the site it is today. In the short piece we question what forces are at work on Mogao and how these can be witnessed in its architectural expression, to the point which we argue what is exhibited is no longer visible nor the focus.




Dunghuan oasis was once bustling with Buddhist calligraphers who carved into the cliff-face to thank the gods for a safe return from distant travels. Today, blank-faced world-heritage tourists and their selfie sticks are channeled through an artificial mountain whose concrete passages seal the caves to create a gated community that we will argue puts its own purpose into question.

We suggest the architecture of Mogao is one of forgotten aims; while once envisioned as a frame through which to explore the UNESCO site, now demands centre stage. It is an architecture of restrictions, pay-barriers and increasingly symbolic of a wider commercialised re-building of heritage locations on the commercialising Silk Road.