Entry for the architectural competition in 2002Loos Architects
The competition for the design of the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) was the largest architectural competition in history with 1557 entries from 82 countries.
Museum for the Egyptian archaeological collection in Giza/Cairo
The proposed museum building is situated on the desert plateau, hovering close to its edge. The broad flights of stairs form the entrance to a huge void which cuts through the whole building and serves as the interior access network of the museum.
Determined by cosmic apparitions as well as earthly sights, the void touches the skin of the building and the volume is cut open. All functional areas are arranged in separate “houses” which can be accessed individually from the public void. Within the circular shape of the museum building, a multitude of exhibition layouts are possible.
What looks like an anonymous block of stone from the outside, turns out to be a hollowed-out structure with quasi-urban qualities from the inside.
The site for the new GEM covers a steep incline formed by the height difference between the Nile valley and the adjoining desert plateau. The proposed museum building is situated on the plateau, hovering above a ditch close to its edge. It therefore not only has a strong connection with the nearby pyramids of Gizeh, but, less obviously, also lies in line with several other ancient Egyptian monuments on the plateau, such as the sun temple of Niuserre, the step pyramid and the necropolis of Sakkara.
The proposed building is a scale less circular volume. Seen from a distance, it has no discernible entrance and, when approached from the North, seems to be sitting on the ground. Only when coming closer and viewing the alien object from a different angle, the visitor suddenly realizes that it is hovering a few meters above the earth. Its rough, sand-coloured skin blends in with the surroundings, but does not give away anything about the building’s function or interior setup. The rough stone walls are perforated by a multitude of small, irregular holes, giving the monolith a porous look. In contrast to these tiny holes, which form a random pattern rather than openings in the building, a few big, articulate incisions interrupt the circular shape. In terms of material and monolithic quality, the museum resembles the pyramids, but unlike them negates its apparent heaviness by floating.
The visitor approaches the museum on a road which winds itself through the public parks. These parks offer the possibility of future extension in the direction of the pyramids, so the visual link with the monuments can develop into a physical one. Only when coming very close to the museum, it becomes
apparent that the entrances lie underneath the hovering volume. Coaches, taxis and cars drive under the building, drop off their passengers at the shaded bus terminal or taxi stop, and then drive on to the parking lots. Also on ground level, two ramps for delivery vehicles lead up into the building. The remaining area under the museum serves as a lively “market square”, where hawkers and traders can offer their goods.
The building is accessed through two big “city gates”. These broad flights of stairs and escalators form the entrance to a huge void which cuts through the whole building on all levels and serves as the interior access network of the museum. All functional areas are accessible via this public route which is used not only by visitors, but also by congress attendants, restaurant guests, flaneurs and staff, making it a busy, bustling main street. During closing hours, the entrances to the functional areas can be locked, but the void remains open to the public. Its walls consist of a refined version of the material used for the outside of the building. In contrast to the rest of the museum, which has technical climate control, the climate in the void is the same as outside, but cooled through shadow, wind and water, for example with the help of fountains.
Like the corridors in the ancient grave monuments, the void digs its way through the building, hollowing it out and developing branches in different directions. In contrast to the overall closed character of the museum building, the outside world delivers points of reference for the void. In some strategic places, it touches the skin of the building and the volume is cut open, resulting in public spaces, balconies or panoramic windows. The location of these spaces is determined by cosmic apparitions – sunset, sunrise, the moon – as well as earthly sights, such as the city of Cairo and the pyramids.
Stepping on the escalator, the visitor reaches the first floor. This storey has no public function, it is reserved for the delivery of goods, storage, technology and offices. Programme areas requiring daylight, such as offices, are generally situated at the perimeter of the building, while those that do not need sunlight are located in its core. Lighting in the void is provided partly by enormous skylights and light channels, partly by artificial light sources.
The museum visitors do not leave the void on the first floor, but are guided directly to the second level, where they find themselves on the big “main square”, which spans two storeys in height. This area offers ample space for groups to gather, people to orientate themselves, prepare for the exhibition and have a look around. On the left of the square, the ticket shop as well as some public functions such as telephone booths and currency exchange are situated. On its right, the visitor encounters the entrance to the restoration laboratories, which are generally reserved for staff, but, like all functional areas, can be made temporarily accessible to the public. The laboratories are housed in separate rooms divided by corridors. Some of them have glass walls, so the visitors can get an insight into the restoration process without actually entering the work space.
Back on the main square, the visitor takes one of the three staircases to the third floor: Either the sunset or the sunrise stairs, which lead to platforms on the third floor and then on to the fourth level, or the big staircase which ends on the “square of the pyramids”. The third floor houses the main archeological storage, which is open to interested public like students or archeologists, as well as some commercial facilities. The main public attraction on this level, however, is the big “square of the pyramids” at the end of one branch of the void. Here the skin of the museum is cut generously open, resulting in a magnificent panoramic view of the nearby monuments. Next to the square lie a restaurant and café from where the same great view can be enjoyed.
Passing through the restaurant or the commercial unit, the visitor has to choose whether to take the sunset or the sunrise stairs to continue his way upwards. Both staircases are directed towards the perimeter of the building, although in opposite directions, and touch the skin on either side of the fourth floor, again resulting in big incisions. On the western side, the “sunset balcony” offers a beautiful view of the desert, while on the eastern side, the visitor finds himself on a platform from which he looks down into the valley, over the city of Cairo. From either platform, he can now enter the permanent exhibition space.
Three parts of the exhibition programme are arranged on the fourth floor. Within the circular shape of the museum building, a multitude of different spatial layouts are possible, with circular or radial orientation. Like the restoration laboratories on the second floor, the different thematical parts of the exhibition are arranged in separate rooms which can all be accessed from the void, but which also have internal links, resulting in many alternative circulation possibilities. The visitor can chose whether he wants to take a shortcut tour, which leads only along the main attractions of the collection, a circular overview tour, which leads him along all the important exhibits, or whether he opts for the comprehensive tour through all the rooms of the exhibition. He also has the opportunity to enter only a certain room and pick the theme which he is interested in.
The permanent exhibition continues on the fifth floor, which the visitor reaches by returning to the vantage points in the void. From here, the staircases turn towards the centre of the building again. Looking up the stairs, which stretch via a platform on the fifth floor to the “moon square” on the sixth level, the visitor suddenly looks through the roof and into the sky. On the fifth floor, he can continue his tour of the collection. There is also a large space for temporary exhibitions. One floor higher, he finds himself on the second big square in the building, the “moon square”. This open space gives access to the auditorium, conference centre and some museological facilities, but also to a room for special exhibitions and another restaurant and café.
The interior of the proposed building thus presents itself as a geometrical maze which stands in contrast to the oblique but guiding void. Its spatial qualities are largely determined by the omnipresent void with its big squares, staircases, platforms, visual connections and openings to the outside world, but also by the circular and radial geometry of the rooms and the exhibition layout. What looks like a porous, but solid and anonymous block of stone from the outside, turns out to be a hollowed-out structure with quasi-urban qualities from the inside.
Museum for the Egyptian archaeological collection in Giza/Cairo, Egypt
Miguel Loos in collaboration with Danielle Huls
Ministry of Culture of the Arabic Republic of Egypt
35.000m2 exhibition area, storage-space, offices, congress center and amenities