Backed by over 3, 500 years of civilization and a fledging culture that sprouted and flourished along the Nile River, Egypt has rarely spared any opportunity to preserve its historical monuments and artifacts. Evidence of this is amply borne out by the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) project, billed as one of the largest museum developments currently underway globally.
By Ashok Dutta
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.
“GEM will be one of the most spectacular museums in the world and we are very proud to be associated with it, ” said Waleed Abdel Fattah, senior vice-president and North Africa regional manager in the Cairo office of US-based Hill International.
Hill International, 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 museum has been designed by a team that consists of Heneghan Peng (architects); Ove Arup (structural engineer) and Buro Happold (mechanical engineer).Their scope of works included pre-schematic design, schematic design, detailed design, tender documents and construction drawings.
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.
“Immediately after this date, development of the preliminary architectural design began, with the pre-schematic design being submitted to the Ministry of Culture at the end of April 2004, ” Fattah said. In addition, a technical committee, comprising of Egyptian scholars, architects and engineers was set up to review the design and provide comments to the design team on a continuous basis.
“Schematic design of the museum building was completed in June 2005, while schematic design of exhibitions was completed by the end of November 2005, ” he pointed out. “Detailed design for the museum building began in April 2006 and detailed design for exhibition works began in November 2010.”
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.
In February this year, Besix and Orascom were awarded the main construction contract and have already mobilised at the site.
“As of 30 June, 829 total human resources are on the site and according to our estimates, there will be a total of 6, 500 workers [including management staff] during the peak construction period, ” Fattah said.
With more than 4 million visitors anticipated to visit the museum, the first stage is targeted to open in August 2015 and will accommodate more than 15, 000 artefacts, including heavy and special ones.
The economic benefits of GEM are too obvious to ignore.
At present, tourism accounts for nearly 4.4% of Egypt’s gross national product (GNP) and also 10% of the total jobs are either directly or indirectly linked in some form to tourism.
Besides, with every additional 1 million visitors to the country, new job opportunities are created for 200, 000.
Interestingly, the existing Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, Cairo is currently the single-largest antiquities museum in Egypt attracting more than 2 million visitors annually, which is more than all the other museums in Egypt combined.
The museum – which was built over 100 years ago – is home to more than 176, 000 relics and antiquities from almost every period of ancient Egyptian history.
“Display and storage spaces are limited with severe difficulties of expansion due to the building and surrounding constraints. As the number of excavations increase, the artifacts to be stored in the existing Egyptian Museum in Cairo have become over-crowded, as also the number of exhibits has completely outgrown the space available, ” Fattah said.
Furthermore, the facilities and programme of conservation and restoration, research, study and education required as standard functions for a modern museum, are not to the required standards in the current museums in Egypt.
To improve such a situation, there is an urgent requirement to construct the new museum incorporating the fundamental functions, such as conservation and restoration, exhibition, research, study and education.
“The GEM will stand out amongst all the other museums around the world with its Pharonic masterpieces, ” Fattah pointed out.
Few will doubt his statements.