Completing an iconic project successfully with tenacity and overcoming major challenges is a matter of great pride for any project/construction manager.
Pretty similar is the scenario for Hill International’s North Africa operations, as it gets closer to the finish line for its Grand Egyptian Museum project in Cairo.
By Ashok Dutta (left), Hill International.
With a grand opening now in May 2018, the final form of the main building will leave the viewer with a “tremendous sense of awe due to its immense size, ” said Waleed Abdel Fattah, Hill’s senior vice president of North Africa.
Pyramids on Display
The final form of the main building will look even more impressive than the architect’s computer images, he said, adding: “We have almost finished the main structure and as you walk up the grand stairs and enter the building, you will have four big statues, including Ramesses the Second [commonly acknowledged as one of ancient Egypt’s most celebrated and powerful pharaoh or ruler]. Also, as you go into the building there’s a huge glass wall where you can see the pyramids as if they’re actually being exhibited inside the building.”
With work progressing diligently on the project, there is a possibility of a partial opening of the museum – depending on how the artefacts go in – even by end 2017, he said. Hill International has been on the project since 2010 when, along with its joint venture partner Cairo-based EHAF Consulting, was awarded the project construction management contract by Egypt’s Ministry of Culture’s Supreme Council of Antiquities.
A Museum close to the Pyramids
With an allocated area of 480, 000 square meters, the museum is located a few miles away from the Giza pyramids. On completion it will become the intersection between modern and ancient Cairo. It will direct the public back to the ancient heritage of Egypt. The facility will offer an exhibition area of 93, 000 square metres and house 100, 000 artefacts, Abdel Fattah said. The project entails construction of the following main elements:
- Museum and Conference Center (Main Building);
- the translucent stone wall (Sierpinski Wall);
- retaining structures;
- auxiliary buildings including restaurants;
- car and coach parking;
- exhibition works and an extensive external works package.
The items to be displayed will be organized into chronological galleries spanning the ages of Pharaonic history including: Pre-History; Old Kingdom; Middle Kingdom; New Kingdom; and Late and Roman Period. Besides, there will also be two special areas for display, including the Grand Staircase and the Tutankhamun Gallery.
The museum is shaped like a chamfered triangle in plan. Its north and south walls line up directly with the Great Pyramid of Khufu and the Pyramid of Menkaure, he said. The new museum is designed to include the latest technology, including virtual reality.
With an initial price tag of $550 million, the project has since seen an escalation in its final cost which would likely rise to $1 billion, Abdel Fattah said, The majority of funding has been guaranteed by the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) with the remaining money from the Egyptian government.
Background and Challenges
The genesis of the museum goes back to 1992. A Presidential Decree was issued to allocate nearly 50 hectares at the current site location in Giza for the facility.
What came thereafter was a flurry of activities with more than 1, 550 conceptual architectural designs from 83 different countries being submitted by international architects and firms. The most distinguished was the winning design selected by the International Union of Architects in Paris in June 2003. This led to the Grand Egyptian Museum being designed by a team comprising Heneghan Peng as architects, Ove Arup as structural engineer and Buro Happold as mechanical engineer.
Their scope of works included pre-schematic design, schematic design, detailed design, tender documents and construction drawings. In 2012, selection was also made of the main contractor, a joint venture between Belgium’s Besix and Orascom of Egypt.
“They [the contractor JV] have completed work on the main structure and are now working on the facade, ” Abdel Fattah said. While the museum has been a conventional construction project, there have been challenges.
No Straight Lines
“The design was a bit complicated, with no straight lines. The hardest thing to build is no parallel access to the sides and the need to create an image of the rays of the sun representing a rising civilization and the folded ceiling that gave a 3-D effect. But with the main building work now over, we feel a major task has been achieved, ” Abdel Fattah said. Another issue that had to be overcome was the outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2011. That resulted in political uncertainty and the imposition of curfew to deal with street protesters.
“In 2011, in the beginning we sent some of the guys away for maybe a week or so but after that we never sent anybody home, ” Abdel Fattah said. With uninterrupted work at the site since 2012, and a new client’s representative putting their hands behind the wheel making some hard calls, the project is heading towards completion. “We are working hard now. All the major challenges that the project had to overcome are behind us, ” Abdel Fattah said.
The Grand Egyptian Museum is considered a project of national pride for the country. For Hill International, it will be another achievement in its quest to successfully deliver iconic projects that will stand the test of time.
All images kind courtesy Hill International.