Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1324, (15 - 21 December 2016)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1324, (15 - 21 December 2016)

Ahram Weekly

GEM design awarded

A journey towards ancient Egyptian culture will be the main theme of the Grand Egyptian Museum’s exhibition design, writes Nevine El-Aref

In the halls dedicated to hosting the collection of the golden boy king Tutankhamun at the planned Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) in Giza, officials from the Ministry of Antiquities and local and international media people gathered this week to mark the announcement of the company that has won the bid to produce the new museum’s exhibition design. 

Minister of Antiquities Khaled Al-Enany announced that the German company Atelier Brückner had won the tender launched six months ago to start building the exhibition design of the GEM.

The Ministry of Antiquities had launched a tender almost six months ago among 20 international and local companies. A committee that included Egyptian and foreign experts in architecture, museology, law and administration had evaluated the work of the tendering companies and made a short list of four from the United States, France, Canada and Germany.

Atelier Brückner then won the bid.

“The soft opening of the GEM is scheduled for mid-2018, but we are working hard to reach December 2017,” Al-Enany said, adding that the official opening was planned for 2022.

Supervisor-General of the GEM Tarek Tewfik said that the winning company was an outstanding global company in the field of designs for exhibitions and museums. It has implemented 316 projects in different countries and won more than 200 international awards in the field.

The company is to design both the grand staircase hall and the two halls dedicated to display Tutankhamun’s funerary collection at the GEM. The grand staircase hall will put on show a collection of 100 royal colossi, blocks and reliefs, among them the gigantic colossus of Ramses II transported in 2006 to the GEM from Ramses Square in downtown Cairo.

The halls of Tutankhamun’s collection will display the funerary collection of the boy king, which includes 5,000 artefacts among them 3,000 objects that have never been put on display before. These items, Tewfik said, were stored in the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square. He told Al-Ahram Weekly that the new halls were 7,000 metres square and would be divided into four areas each representing a chamber of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

“This is the suggested idea from which the main design of the Tutankhamun halls will be created,” Tewfik said, adding that the cost of the design was included in the overall cost of the GEM project.

“We were very honoured to be invited to attend this bidding process, and of course to finally win it. We will do our best to perform in the best possible way to make the dream come true,” Uwe Rudolf Brückner, founder and creative director of Atelier Brückner, told the Weekly.

 The company is a leading design office for museums and exhibitions, architecture, expo pavilions, brand and visitor centres. “As a general planner we cover all design phases and disciplines — exhibition design/fit out, architecture, scenography, graphics, lighting, media and content — through all design phases,” Brückner said. “We have created 11 different designs for museums as well as a number of permanent and temporary exhibitions worldwide.”

“Our design is for the entire museum, but we will start with the Tutankhamun collection. Our design philosophy is based on the idea that form follows content, and this depends on the objects themselves and the story that comes with them. Hence, we will start designing the collection from what the curators tell us about the importance of the artefacts and the story behind their discovery. Their beauty and meaning are also taken into consideration.”

“What we want to do with the Tutankhamun collection is to enhance the background story of every artefact in his collection in a way that highlights the object and its artistic beauty as well as its background story. This is what museums are all about,” Brückner said, adding that 21st-century museums can open doors and windows to secret worlds that only a few people may know.

“The idea of a museum, I think, is to let visitors participate in the experience and knowledge of museologists and experts,” Brückner said. 

This could be achieved through the exhibited objects that remain the stars of the exhibition. With smart story-telling and scenography the background story of the objects can be enhanced. For example, he explained, if a visitor is in front of a beautiful artefact in a showcase, on demand he or she could touch the showcase and information would appear relating the story of the object.

“I have not designed something special for the iconic mask of Tutankhamun yet because we have just started working, but I have some ideas in mind to enhance its meaning and to connect it back to the other objects,” Brückner said. “I think there are more surprises coming up.”

“The previously unseen Tutankhamun collection, the flagship treasures if I may call them this, is very well prepared as the curators did a great job in the conservation and transportation. I am very curious about these 3,000 objects that nobody has seen before, and for myself it is a privilege that the job has been offered to us,” Brückner said.

He told the Weekly that he liked the idea of enhancing the re-contextualisation of the objects so people could better understand their origins. “I want to create a journey of Egypt that does not stop in Giza and the Pyramids where the Museum is located, but travels south towards Upper Egypt, Luxor and Aswan. It is an invitation towards a journey to the ancient Egyptian culture,” Brückner concluded, adding that the goal would be to attract visitors not once but several times in order to experience and explore things they may have never seen before.

Tewfik said that the GEM would be partially open by mid-2018 and the opening would include the inauguration of the grand staircase hall and the Tutankhamun halls.

A collection of 39,000 artefacts had been transported to the GEM from museums and archaeological sites around the country. “We are planning to transfer 100,000 artefacts as scheduled, and the transportation process is being carried out according to the latest techniques,” Tewfik added.

 “The Museum will provide the best environment for the display of Egypt’s priceless treasures, as well as providing more space, better lighting, and more information on them, all of which will help to do justice to Egypt’s heritage,” Tewfik said.

The GEM project was launched in 2002 in order to build a state-of-the-art antiquities museum near the Giza Pyramids to solve the problems of the overstuffed Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square and to bring together materials stored at various archaeological sites across the country.

The Museum complex will centre on what has been called the “Dunnal Eye,” an area containing the main exhibition spaces. From this central hub a network of streets, piazzas and bridges will link the Museum’s many sections. The design is by Shih-Fu Peng of the Dublin architectural firm Heneghan, winner of the international architectural competition held in 2003.

The GEM is to display a collection of 100,000 objects from ancient Egypt beginning with prehistory and going up to the early Roman period. Among the objects on display will be the unique objects of the boy king Tutankhamun, Hetepheres, mother of the pharaoh Khufu, Yuya and Thuya, the grandfathers of the pharaoh Akhenaten, Senedjem, the principal artist of the pharaoh Ramses II, and the royal mummies and treasures of Tanis.

Funerary objects of Mekete-Re, a high-ranking official of the 11th Dynasty, will also be among the items on display. The gigantic statue of Ramses II, and the two solar boats of Khufu transported from the Giza Plateau are also among the exhibits.

The GEM will house a conference centre with an auditorium seating 1,000 and catering to theatrical performances, concerts, conferences and business meetings. The main auditorium will be supplemented with seminar rooms, meeting rooms, a multi-purpose hall suitable for a variety of events, and an open-plan gallery for accompanying exhibitions.

A 7,000 square metre commercial area with retail shops, cafeterias, restaurants, leisure and recreational activities is planned for the ground-floor level, as well as a 250-seat cinema.

The first and second phases of the GEM were completed in 2010. They included the construction of a power plant, fire station, and fully equipped conservation centre built 10 metres below ground level. The centre has 12 laboratories and four storage galleries. It is believed to be the largest such facility in the world and is intended as a regional, as well as an Egyptian, expert centre.

The Museum’s storage rooms are equipped with units designed for secure storage and easy access. The environment is determined by the materials kept in the individual rooms, whether they are organic or non-organic, or require low temperatures to optimise preservation.

The LE5 billion project is funded by the Egyptian government and two loans from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which in 2006 provided the first soft loan of US$300 million to be repaid over 30 years at 1.5 per cent interest. Payments will be made in instalments after a 10-year grace period following the GEM’s official opening.

The second soft loan, made a month ago, is for some US$460 million, which the government will repay over 25 years at an interest rate of 1.4 per cent after a seven-year grace period.

Another US$27 million has been donated by Egyptian businessmen, while the ministry of culture under the former Mubarak regime provided US$150 million. However, problems encountered after the 25 January Revolution led to budgetary problems, slowing the construction of the new Museum.

In 2012, a joint venture between Egypt’s Orascom Construction Industries (OCI) and the Belgian BESIX Group was awarded the contract for the completion of the GEM’s third phase, which includes the construction of the Museum’s main building and landscaping.

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