Grand Egyptian Museum Cairo
Museum for the third millennium
The Giza pyramid complex ranks among the best-known and oldest preserved building structures of humankind. And, under construction in its immediate proximity is the Grand Egyptian Museum, currently the world’s biggest new museum building. Being used in the project are round and square MSH sections from Salzgitter Mannesmann Line Pipe.
The plainness of the architectural design and the perfection in the execution of the Egyptian pyramids have become iconic of the fascinating Age of the Pharaohs and, over 4,500 years after their construction, have lost nothing of their magical appeal. The still-continuing investigation of the structures, statues, tombs, mummies, sarcophagi and grave goods creates plenty of scope for theories and conjecture and is constantly yielding new findings.
Under the spell of history
So it is hardly surprising that Ancient Egyptian history has cast its spell on so many people, drawing millions of people from all corners of the globe to Egypt’s heritage sites. Among these are not only the pyramids and the Sphinx, but also the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Even today, it is still the world’s biggest museum of Ancient Egyptian art, attracting some 2.5 million visitors per year. Opening in 1902, it provided sufficient space, by the standards of the day, for the numerous finds and exhibits from about 4,000 years of Egyptian cultural history. However, the historic building has not been spared by the ravages of time and falls short of contemporary standards of exhibition practice and artefact conservation. Even the spectacular treasures from the tomb of King Tutankhamun from the finds of the archaeologist Howard Carter dating from 1922 cannot be presented in context. Only some 1,700 of the estimated 3,500 objects can be exhibited. And yet it is precisely this exhibition surrounding the brief reign of the pharaoh of the 18th dynasty that is one of the biggest crowd-pullers of all. Consequently, there have long been moves to create a contemporary museum commensurate with the extent of the exhibits.
New building outside Cairo
However, it was clear from the outset that a new building of the envisaged size cannot be accommodated in Cairo’s center. So there has been a search for a location with historic ties, and this has been found in the immediate vicinity of the Giza pyramids and not far from the Nil. The foundation stone for the ambitious project was laid by the then President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak. It is hoped that the new museum will have a charismatic appeal for visitors that does justice to the scale and size of the some 100,000 exhibits, but without upstaging the pyramids and the Sphinx.
Competition of superlatives
The open architectural competition received a total of 1,557 entries from 82 countries in 2002, making it one of the biggest architectural competitions to date worldwide. In the second stage, 20 entrants were given the opportunity submit additional information. On June 2, 2003, the competition jury chose the elaborated design from architects Heneghan Peng in Ireland as the winning design. Similarly plain and ingenious as the nearby and visible pyramids, this design stands out with its use of the triangle as its primary design element. Building on this, the design succeeds in converting the 800 m long main façade into a delicate, translucent and openable exterior membrane by using the Sierpinski triangle. As a result, an interior outer space is created within the building that skillfully links the forecourt with the building interior, subjecting the concept of the foyer to a new interpretation.
16,000 visitors per day
The museum will contain about 93,000 m² of exhibition space – about a third more than the Louvre in Paris. Up to 16,000 visitors are expected to flock through the exhibitions each day – equal to approximately 5 million per year and thus twice as many as until now. All the same, the new building will be so spacious that a sense of overcrowding can hardly arise. But it is not only the size and design that stand out, for the project’s cost is also setting records. The building will house not only the exhibition space proper, but also storage rooms and archives, a conference center and a children’s museum. The restoration workshops alone will account for about 7,000 m² of space. Also included are restaurants, cafés and ancillary buildings such as the museum’s own power generator and fire department. Not to be overlooked is the extensive landscaping of the roughly 50 ha of park-like grounds. The construction costs are currently put at around 1 billion US dollars.
Construction in three stages
The realization of this mega-project has been divided into three stages. The initial preparation of the site got underway in 2006. The first buildings and infrastructure measures were completed by 2008. Work on the museum itself has been in progress since 2013. A so-called "soft opening" is scheduled for 2018. By then, about a third of the exhibition space will be accessible to the public. But it’s early days yet. The Director of the GEM Tarek Tawfik has been quoted with the words: "Sometimes I feel like we’re building the fourth pyramid here."
The challenge of the façade
The façade is certainly one of the biggest challenges. It consists of MSH sections that frame the light-permeable, large-area stone panels. The façade's ornamental character stems from the subdivision of the 30 m high triangles on the Sierpinski principle. For this, the overall area of the equilateral triangle is divided equally into four smaller triangles. The central triangle remains undivided, while the system of division is applied again to the corner triangles. The triangles thus become progressively smaller, and the large initial pattern is reiterated in the smallest triangles.
The development of a lasting structure and the façade’s construction with the delicate stone panels, transport to the construction site, plus assembly locally certainly rank among the most exacting and difficult processes of the entire project. On completion, spectacular light effects will be achieved both inside and outside due to natural light and artificial illumination.
Maximum flexibility in terms of procedure, handling and supply
Responsibility for the design of the 800 m long and up to 30 m high exterior membrane lies with Arup, the internationally renowned firm of engineers with 92 offices in 37 countries. Steel fabrication work is handled by National Steel Fabrication (NSF) based in Cairo, to which Salzgitter Mannesmann Line Pipe, through Vallourec and ThyssenKrupp Mannex, has supplied round and square MSH sections between 114.3 and 406.4 mmm in diameter and with wall thicknesses of 3.6 to 20 mm. "In addition to the higher yield strengths that were required, the most important factor was flexibility in terms of the procedure, handling and deliveries," says Guido Ludwig, who supervised and coordinated the order for Salzgitter Mannesmann Line Pipe. "The timing of the delivery dates for the project was extremely tight for each construction phase. Our deliveries had to be precisely coordinated for further processing at NSF so that the materials needed for the next phase of construction were always available," he recalls. Very useful, he feels, was the good communication between those in charge at Salzgitter Mannesmann Line Pipe, Vallourec and ThyssenKrupp Mannex.
Till Burgsmüller, who was responsible for the project on behalf of Vallourec, had to be available to the customer virtually around the clock for the entire duration of the project and of deliveries, even on public holidays and at Christmas.
"The swift and direct communication among all those involved in the project streamlined the process enormously and made the whole thing a success," says Ludwig, adding: "Of course no one can say whether the museum will last as long as the pyramids. Maybe our steel tubes and MSH sections will be dug up by archaeologists in four to five thousand years and give rise to intriguing speculation about the significance of the Sierpinski triangle …"