December 26, 2012

Project: Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Egypt

Outside of Cairo, Egypt, just north of the Giza plateau within walking distance of the three pyramids, the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) will be home to the world’s largest collection of Egyptian artifacts when it opens in 2013. Fittingly, it will also be among the world’s largest museums, and will include a library, auditorium, and multimedia facilities.

“The scale is daunting because big buildings are complex,” says Roisin Heneghan of Heneghan Peng Architects. The Dublin-based firm beat out 1,557 proposals to win the bid in 2003. Heneghan says scale is also exciting, but requires significant organization: “Lots of managers and systems!”

The result of all this organization will be a 1-million-square-foot building partially sunken into the desert, with a roof that echoes the neighboring pyramids; two of the structure’s parallel walls are in direct alignment with the landmark forms.

Size was not the museum’s only challenge. The surrounding desert – of course – results in heaps of sand. So retaining walls are necessary throughout. The biggest, called the Menjaurus Wall, will be 1,640 feet wide and, in places, will reach a height of 115 feet.

“It’s more like a dam than a retaining wall,” says Heneghan. “The movement of wind and sand in these parts is unfathomable to much of the rest of the world.”

Another aesthetic and structural element is the sloping, translucent, onyx façade built against the main building at mid height and roof level. Its shape and scale is reminiscent of the pyramids themselves, while being thoroughly modern. At GEM, ancient and futuristic merge impressively.

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