The Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), potentially the "world's most spectacular museum" under construction in Cairo, has literally withstood the test of time and overcome several challenges in the past.
Evidence of that is once again at hand, as about 75% of the foundation and basement work is now complete, despite the severe political unrest that swept through Egypt in the past two years in the wake of the Arab Spring.
By Ashok Dutta, Hill International. Related article: The World's Most Spectacular Museum? Cairo's Grand Egyptian Museum Project
Waleed Abdel Fattah, senior vice-president and North Africa regional manager in the Cairo office of US-based Hill International, explains that the next step will be construction of the vertical elements or the superstructure.
“A major upcoming milestone will be the completion of the third floor by the summer of 2014, ” he said, adding work will thereafter immediately commence on the ‘HVAC’ (air conditioning, ducting and related work) that will be over by the year end.
The GEM – touted as one of the largest museum developments currently underway globally – will have three floors, he said.
With an allocated area of 480, 000 square metres, the museum will be located nearly 2 kilometres away from the Giza pyramids adjacent to the Giza plateau, and on completion will become the intersection between modern and ancient Cairo directing the public back to the ancient heritage of Egypt.
The facility will offer an exhibition area of 35, 000 square metres and house 100, 000 artefacts.
The project construction consists of the following main elements: Museum and Conference Center (Main Building); the Menkaurus Retaining Wall and other 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 building is shaped like a chamfered triangle in plan. It sits on a site two kilometers west of the pyramids, near a motorway interchange. The building's north and south walls line up directly with the Great Pyramid of Khufu and the Pyramid of Menkaure.
In front of the building is a large plaza, filled with date plants. One of the main features of the Museum is the translucent stone wall, made of alabaster, that will make up the front facade of the building. Inside the main entrance is a large atrium, where large statues will be exhibited.
The new museum is designed to include the latest technology, including virtual reality. The Museum will also be an international center of communication between museums, to promote direct contact with other local and international museums. The Grand Egyptian Museum will include a children's museum, conference center, training center, and workshops similar to the old Pharaonic places.
Hill, along with its Egyptian partner EHAF Consulting Engineers, was awarded in 2010 the project construction management contract by Egypt’s Ministry of Culture’s Supreme Council of Antiquities.
The five-year contract has an estimated value to the Hill/EHAF joint venture of nearly US$50 million. Hill has a 70% interest in the joint venture and EHAF holds the remaining 30% interest.
The main construction contract was already awarded to a team of Besix and Orascom and there are already 3, 500 workers on site, with that figure to be ramped up to 8, 000 during the peak construction phase towards the end of 2014.
“Procurement of materials is 51% complete and financing of the project was not affected during the political and civil unrest that we experienced. We are moving on track now and are looking at a soft opening by end of 2016 and a full completion by the first quarter of 2016, ” he said.
The project is estimated to cost US$800 million, with 70% funding coming from the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) and the remaining 30% from the Egyptian government.
The genesis of the museum goes back to 1992 when a Presidential Decree was issued to allocate nearly 50 hectares at the current site location in Giza for the facility.
What followed 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 on 2 June 2003.
With more than 4 million visitors anticipated to visit the museum, the first stage will accommodate more than 15, 000 artefacts, including heavy and special ones.
“The GEM is one of the national projects that is going ahead and is at present a focal point, ” Fattah said.
Images: Hill International