The long-anticipated Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) is set to open officially in May 2018. However, it may partly open ahead of schedule, thanks to a challenging schedule of works.
The Grand Egyptian Museum will be situated adjacent to the Giza Plateau within two kilometres of the Giza pyramids. The GEM project is one of the largest and most significant in process globally. Its total land area extends to 491,000 square metres, with the buildings taking up 168,000 square metres. Once completed it will be a world-leading scientific, historical and archaeological study centre. The museum is set to open in May 2018.
Blooloop spoke with Waleed Abdel-Fattah (right), North Africa Senior Vice President of Hill International about the monumental project. Hill International have been providing project management services during the design and construction phases.
The Grand Egyptian Museum
The Grand Egyptian Museum is situated between modern Cairo and the ancient pyramids, where the desert joins the floodplain. Poised between worlds, it has been conceived as a portal through time. It will be the largest museum in the world dedicated to a single civilization.
The museum will cover approximately 3,000 years of ancient Egyptian history and house more than 100,000 artefacts. Its location, planned to draw visitors back through the ages to ancient Egypt, has been exploited to the full. Visitors will be able to see the pyramids of Khufu and Menkaure through the glass wall that fronts the galleries.
The Giza Plateau is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. Aside from the pyramids, it is home to the Giza Necropolis and the Great Sphinx. This stunning location will serve as a backdrop to a display of priceless artefacts, including the Tutankhamen collection (currently housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo) and the second Solar Boat, currently under excavation works.
Design Decided by Global Competition
The genesis of The Grand Egyptian Museum dates back to 1992. A Presidential Decree was issued to allocate nearly 50 hectares for the facility at Giza.
In 2002, a competition was announced to decide who should design the museum complex. More than 1,550 conceptual architectural designs from 83 different countries were submitted by international architects. The winner was Dublin-based company, heneghan peng, who scooped an award of $250,000.
heneghan peng have worked in conjunction with mechanical engineers, BuroHappold Engineering, and structural engineers Arup. Their scope of works included pre-schematic design, schematic design, detailed design, tender documents and construction drawings. Atelier Brueckner from Germany was appointed in 2016 to design the Tutankhamun galleries, Grand Stairs, Piazza Atrium and Children’s Museum.
Schematic design of the museum building was completed in June 2005. Schematic design of the exhibitions was completed by the end of November in the same year. Detailed design for the museum building began in April 2006. The project is estimated to cost just over US$1 billion, with substantial funding coming from the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) and the remaining from the Egyptian government.
Hill International Brought on Board in 2010
Hill International was brought on board in February 2010. At this point Egypt’s Minister of Culture signed a joint contract with Hill and their Egyptian partner EHAF Consulting Engineers to provide project management services during the design and construction period.
The original five-year contract had an estimated value to the Hill/EHAF joint venture of nearly $50 million. Hill has a 70 per cent interest in the joint venture and EHAF holds the remaining 30 per cent interest. The contract was subsequently extended to complete the work.
Building Inspired by the Pyramids will Span Pharaonic History
Resembling a truncated triangle, the building is reminiscent of the pyramids that inspired it. Its north and south walls line up directly with the pyramids of Khufu and Menkaure.
The building faces a sizeable plaza. Inside, a spacious atrium will provide an exhibition space for large statues.
Further design features of the complex include a conference centre, an educational centre, workshop spaces created to be reminiscent of the ancient Pharaonic palaces, and a children’s museum.
Auxiliary buildings include restaurants; car and coach parking; exhibition works and an extensive external works package.
The museum will incorporate cutting-edge technology and virtual reality to facilitate interpretation. It will also fulfil a role as an international communication centre between museums.
Artefacts to be displayed will be organised into chronological galleries spanning the ages of Pharaonic history, including Pre-History; Old Kingdom; Middle Kingdom; New Kingdom; and the Late and Roman Period. In addition, The Grand Staircase and the Tutankhamun Gallery are two special display areas.
Many exhibits will be relocated from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, Cairo. However not all the exhibits will be taken from the original museum. It will also not be closed, even after the Grand Egyptian Museum opens.
Work is Progressing Ahead of Schedule
Abdel-Fatteh says that Hill International’s North Africa operation is feeling huge satisfaction as the Grand Egyptian Museum project nears completion. He says that, when the museum opens, the final form of the main building will “leave the viewer with a tremendous sense of awe due to its immense size.”
More than 3,000 Egyptian labourers have been working in shifts, 24 hours a day. With work progressing ahead of schedule on the project, Abdel-Fatteh says there is the possibility of a partial opening of the museum by the end of 2017, showcasing the treasures of King Tutankhamen’s tomb.
The final form of the main building will, he promises, look even more impressive than the architect’s computer images. “We have almost finished the main structure,” he says. “As you walk up the grand stairs and enter the building, you will see four big statues. These include Ramesses the Second.”
The statue has been removed from Ramses Square in Cairo to Giza, in anticipation of the museum’s construction.
“Also, as you go into the building there’s a huge glass wall,” Abdel-Fatteh continues. “You can see the pyramids as if they’re actually being exhibited inside the building.”
Unique Challenges at The Grand Egyptian Museum
In essence the museum was a conventional construction project. Nonetheless there have been unique challenges.
“The design was a bit complicated, with no straight lines,” says Abdel-Fattah. “The hardest structures to build are where you have no parallel access to the sides. Creating an image of the rays of the sun representing a rising civilization and the folded ceiling that gives a 3-D effect was also challenging. But with the main building work now over, we feel a major task has been achieved.”
A major issue came with the outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2011. This resulted in political uncertainty and the imposition of a curfew to deal with street protestors.
“In 2011, in the beginning we sent some of the guys away for maybe a week or so,” says Abdel-Fattah. “But after that we didn’t have to send anybody home.”
A Project of National Pride for Egypt
The project is now heading towards completion. “We are working hard now and all the major challenges that the project had to overcome are behind us,” says Abdel-Fattah.
The Grand Egyptian Museum is a project of national pride for the country. It is also another great achievement for Hill International, whose aim is always to deliver iconic projects that will stand the test of time.
Egyptologists and general tourists alike from around the world are all expected to be drawn to the museum. Furthermore, it will serve as a peerless archaeological site, a hub of all things Egyptian, and as a conduit between the modern and ancient worlds.
The economic benefits of the GEM could be significant. In 2015, tourism made up 11.4 per cent of Egypt’s GDP. That figure has dropped to 4.4 per cent. Last year tourist numbers were down 41.9 per cent compared to the same period in 2015.
The hope, of course, is that the GEM will encourage tourists back to Egypt. 10 per cent of jobs in Egypt are either directly or indirectly linked in some form to tourism. With every additional 1 million visitors to the country, new job opportunities are created for 200,000 people. The expectation is that more than 4 million people will visit the museum annually.
Image credits: construction, Hill International, exhibit design Metaphor, artefects & exterior GEM/heneghang peng, Atelie Brueckner GmbH