Site Logo
Tutankhamun Gallery, Grand Egyptian Museum, Cairo to open in November
Tutankhamun's mask, one of the most valuable art objects worldwide. Image copyright Kenneth Garrett
Tutankhamun's mask, one of the most valuable art objects worldwide. Image copyright Kenneth Garrett

The staging of the exhibition and interview with the designers.

Shirin Frangoul-Brückner, Principal, Atelier Brückner. Image copyright Reiner Pfisterer
Shirin Frangoul-Brückner, Principal, Atelier Brückner. Image copyright Reiner Pfisterer

The legendary tomb of the child-king Tutankhamun was discovered in the Valley of the Kings exactly 100 years ago on 4 November 1922. In the Grand Egyptian Museum, the complete burial hoard is being exhibited for the first time. The exhibition design comes from ATELIER BRÜCKNER. "Truly a project of the century!", says CEO Shirin Brückner.

In December 2016, ATELIER BRÜCKNER was commissioned to design the Tutankhamun Gallery. It has 7,500 square metres of exhibition space, located on the second floor of a new building by heneghan peng architects. The world's largest museum of Egyptian art and culture with a total area of more than 90,000 square metres is set to open soon, close to the pyramids of Giza.

One of the main challenges is the expected number of visitors, at more than 15,000 per day. For them, ATELIER BRÜCKNER conceived a narrative visitor routing that, in spaces of huge dimensions, enables even small objects to command the attention that their outstanding importance demands.

GEM graphic team. Image copyright Reiner Pfisterer
GEM graphic team. Image copyright Reiner Pfisterer

Two parallel wings, each 180 metres long and up to 16 metres high, comprise the Tutankhamun Gallery. On show are 5,400 artefacts – including around 3,000 that have not been seen before. The greatest attraction is Tutankhamun's mask, one of the most valuable art objects worldwide.

Model detail, Image copyright claudia Luxbacher
Model detail, Image copyright claudia Luxbacher

The fantastic journey in the footsteps of Tutankhamun can be experienced as a coherent, spatially impressive narrative. The visitors accompany the mythenshrouded king throughout his life step-by-step until his afterlife. Finally, they encounter Tutankhamun’s grave in the form of a real-size abstract model onto which images of the discovery are projected. The interplay of architecture and narration, of materials, light, graphics, and interactive media creates an emotional experience.

ATELIER BRÜCKNER characterizes the Grand Egyptian Museum. Their work spans the main access axis, the atrium with an over eleven-meter-high statue of Ramses II and the expressive Grand Stairs – 180-metre-long backbone of the museum with large sculptures weighing several tons. The children's museum with 3,500 square metres of exhibition space on the first floor of the museum, is also designed by the German studio.

Team Atelier Brueckner. Image copyright Christian Kroh
Team Atelier Brueckner. Image copyright Christian Kroh

Interview with the Exhibition designers
The Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) in the direct vicinity of the pyramids of Giza is due to open soon. Over an area of 40,000 square metres, more than 50,000 exhibits dating from the time of Egyptian high culture will be on show, including the burial treasure of Tutankhamun, which was discovered in 1922. The plans for the design of the exhibition gallery come from ATELIER BRÜCKNER in Stuttgart. We talked about the concept with managing director Shirin Frangoul-Brückner, creative director Britta Nagel, project manager Yijing Lu, designer Tanja Zöllner and graphic designer Rana Rmeily.

Ms Shirin Frangoul-Brückner, in 2016 you and your office won the contest for the design of the GEM's exhibition galleries. In a selection procedure lasting 12 months, you came out on top against several other internationally renowned design offices. What does this commission mean for your office? 

Shirin Frangoul-Brückner: In the past, we and our 120 employees have executed large-scale international projects. But we have never had the chance to design the presentation of such important exhibits. For us, of course, this was a huge opportunity as well as a huge challenge, such as probably arises only once in a lifetime. Making the impossible possible was the motto. When we received the acceptance notice from Cairo, we had only four weeks to put together a team of 30 employees who were to work solely on this project. After that, we only had six months for the entire planning from the concept to the implementation planning. That was a unique challenge!

The museum was actually supposed to be completed in 2013 and now, after some delays, the opening is set to take place soon. What are the advantages of the new construction compared to the old Egyptian museum in the heart of Cairo? 

Shirin Frangoul-Brückner: The old building definitely possesses its own particular charm and flair. But its exhibition is bursting at the seams and, although the exhibits impress because of their abundance, they are only rarely explained or elucidated. The visitors are therefore hard pressed to understand the history behind the artefacts. What's more, the lighting and the climatic conditions fail to meet the requirements for a modern museum. In the new museum, this is completely different. 

What will visitors experience in the new museum?

Yijing Lu: In the new museum, an enormous exhibition area of 7,500 square metres is available exclusively for the Tutankhamun gallery, being located on the second floor of the building. Right at the beginning, visitors enter into an open atrium, which connects all the areas of the museum to each other. Standing in a water feature, the statue of Ramses II is a central eye catcher, which is more than eleven metres tall and weighs 83 tons. The various exhibition areas are reached via a 180 metre-long staircase, which is the museum's architectural backbone, as it were. As if climbing the stairs of time, a visitor goes past ninety large-scale sculptures from the entire Nile region and then finally comes to a huge viewing platform, from where a breath-taking view of the pyramids of Giza opens up. On the first floor, there is a children's museum, also designed by ATELIER BRÜCKNER, and, on the second floor, visitors can see Tutankhamun's legendary burial treasure, which was discovered by the British archaeologist, Howard Carter, in the Valley of the Kings exactly one hundred years ago. The 35 metre-square burial site comprises four chambers with 5,400 well-preserved tomb objects, many of which are made of gold. Some, but by far not all the objects were displayed in the old museum. In the GEM, it is possible for the first time ever to show all the artefacts and the overall situation of the burial site, and thus tell the story of Egypt's past comprehensively. One could say that the family, once torn asunder, is being re-united. It is now complete again – as it was 3,000 years ago at the time of the entombment.

What special requirements did your exhibition concept have to satisfy?

Britta Nagel: One of the main challenges was the development of a visitor orientation system that would be able to handle over 15,000 people per day, which is the expected number of visitors in the GEM. In addition, we had to find a way to exhibit comparatively small-format objects in the museum's vast spaces, whose architecture had already been completely predetermined. We therefore had to design an overall, coherent framework so that the exhibits could be presented, and their complex stories narrated in an appropriate setting. It was also very important that the museum is not intended for tourism purposes only but is primarily a cultural and educational site for the country's own population as well. Apart from the exhibition area, the building complex offers a big library and a large education centre, where presentations and conferences take place.

The Tutankhamun section is undoubtedly the highpoint of the exhibition...

Shirin Frangoul-Brückner: Yes, the burial hoard is something unique and occupies around 7,500 square metres of exhibition space on the second floor of the museum. In addition to the world-renowned burial mask, all the other artefacts can be seen that were entombed with Tutankhamun, including musical instruments, hunting paraphernalia and items of jewellery. In order to register the huge quantity of objects, we digitally linked the extensive information from the existing database with the 3D planning of the 120 exhibition showcases. The biggest of these showcases shows the six war chariots from the burial chamber.

A special feature of your exhibition concept is the narrative approach to the exhibits. How did you put this into practice?

Shirin Frangoul-Brückner: In order to make the different tomb furnishings of Tutankhamun come alive, we wanted not simply to show the artefacts plus a text; we aimed to use the objects to immerse visitors in Egypt's history. We therefore decided in favour of a scenographic approach and worked with narrative spaces, different kinds of ambience and three-dimensional forms of dramaturgy to tell the story of the king's life and enable visitors to delve into the mystical world of the Egyptians. Moreover, the exhibition can be walked through in two directions: clockwise and anti-clockwise.

So you created a two-way route through the exhibition...

Tanja Zöllner: Yes, we designed a route through the exhibition that allows visitors to experience it clock and counter clock-wise. Visitors can individually decide where they would like to begin. In one case, they explore the story of the young pharaoh. The route starts with the theme of "Identity", where you can get to know Tutankhamun and his family, find out what he looks like and how he died. The "Funeral" section then shows how Tutankhamun was mummified and wrapped. Ritual objects and jewellery are arranged exactly as they were found next to his body at the time. Based on drawings by Carter, it becomes clear where the objects were located on the body. The climax of the visitor routing is the world-famous golden mask, to which we have dedicated its own space. Directly after this, the "Rebirth" area begins, which takes the Egyptians' belief in the afterlife as its theme. Here, we have reconstructed Tut's burial chamber with all the ritual objects in their original positions, including the wine amphorae with red and white wine and rosé as well as eleven paddles for crossing the Nile into the afterlife. In the "Lifestyle" space, hunting scenes, weapons and war chariots are presented to show his outdoor activities. In the palace, which we imitate by means of semi-transparent walls made of a glittering metal material, the visitor can view tunics, wigs, musical instruments, and board games; the departed was to lack nothing in the afterlife. The last area "Discovery" addresses the search for and discovery of the tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Visitors can step into an abstracted, real-size reconstruction of the tomb and experience the moments of discovery through historical images. They are projected full-size onto screens, positioned at the relevant places.

And what is the perspective if the route is traversed the other way round?

Tanja Zöllner: The other way round provides a scientific view of the subject matter. The visitor follows in the footsteps of Howard Carter a hundred years ago when he came across the tomb. Like an archaeologist, you open one chamber after another, and in the end locate the burial chamber, open the shrines and sarcophagus one after the other, unwrap the mummy layer by layer and, on the basis of DNA investigations, finally find out what the pharaoh really looked like at that time.

So, you intentionally made use of storytelling means to familiarise the visitors with the pharaoh and make it possible to experience his life as a coherent narration...

Shirin Frangoul-Brückner: Yes, the result is an integral, cohesive story. Different disciplines contribute to the achievement of a consistent result. This concerns materials and details, on the one hand, and light and acoustics, on the other. We work with graphics and with interactive media, whereby the interplay of these factors is what evokes an emotional experience.

This storytelling approach is typical of the work done by ATELIER BRÜCKNER. It is also used in some of your other projects such as the Limes Museum in Aalen, the Museum of the Future in Dubai, the Natural History Museum in Oslo and the BMW Museum in Munich. What design elements did you use to apply this scenographic approach to the GEM?

Britta Nagel: So that the visitor can accompany the pharaoh in his afterlife and is allowed to concentrate on the exhibited artefacts, there are two central elements that are present along the route through the exhibition: An eight metre-wide, black strip on the floor that forms the stage for the short life of Tutankhamun, and a suspended ceiling installation made of a bronze mesh. By combining these elements, we have scenographically brought to life the belief of the ancient Egyptians: during the day, the path of the sun is followed and, at night, there is the return over the Nile until the morning.

How should this canopy be envisaged?

Tanja Zöllner: The installation is 125 metres long, 5.50 metres wide and is suspended from the concrete ceiling at a height of 9 metres. In combination with a dynamic lighting scenario, a "Path of the Sun" was created which accompanies the pharaoh to his afterlife and, on the other hand, enables the visitor to concentrate on the exhibited objects. We tried out different ideas for the canopy and then decided in favour of a self-reflecting bronze mesh, over which we allow light to play to create a very subtle impression along the route.

How do you develop such narrative exhibition concepts at ATELIER BRÜCKNER and what parameters do you use?

Shirin Frangoul-Brückner: Our methods and instruments are based on many years of empirical, practical experience and our evolved expertise in the application of design strategies in very different fields. Starting from our atelier philosophy "form follows content" and borrowing from dramaturgical principles applied in literature, film and theatre, we developed a special method for use in actual practice. This approach serves as a basis for the analysis of complex projects and their requirements so that we can develop a storyboard and a score, and design exciting exhibition tours with convincing narrative spaces. 

How do you actually proceed?

Britta Nagel: At the beginning of every project, the contents, stories and information, including those of the customer, are analysed very precisely as is the already existing or planned architecture. On this basis, we then work out a concept that is tailor-made to align with these different variables. I think that is also the reason why our exhibitions end up being so different, in spite of the themes being similar.

What's more, we try to develop the projects jointly with our partners in the framework of a dialogue. In close collaboration with the curators and scientists, we discuss the substantive contents, the central messages and the narrative potential of the respective theme. At the same time, the location, the architecture and the pre-determined space are analysed while consideration is also given to the target group and visitor orientation. In this way, we find possible routes of the visitor through all of the exhibition space that can be walked through. The routes are the key to every exhibition project; they function as an orientation structure for the entire exhibition dramaturgy.

Conceptual model making, by the way, is very important in this process, the reason being that, more than any drawing, models are a good way to develop a feeling for the space. At an early stage, we therefore develop concept models in order to express and evaluate the dimensions, proportions, shape, colour or translucency of the elements and materials used.

Emotionality plays a big role in this...

Britta Nagel: Yes, with the tools of design, the emerging exhibition dramaturgy can be translated into three dimensions narratively and sensorially. Contents and information thus become intensively narrated stories in narrative spaces that can be walked through. We intentionally take the approach that this is best achieved by means of the initial emotional impression, and that the three-dimensional setting is one of the first levels of access that we can offer visitors. This 'emotionalization' of space is an essential feature of our work. We work with stories and repeatedly try out new formats that can convey these stories most effectively. It is, of course, perfect if we can develop the architecture and the exhibition simultaneously so that a kind of symbiosis is created. With us, form and content are not designed independently of each other but are compressed to produce stories, messages and ideas with the help of digital media, sound or light.

An important component of the exhibition in the GEM is the graphic design. What special challenges did you have to deal with, Ms Rmeily?

Rana Rmeily: A special feature of the museum is that all the interpretive copy is in three languages: Arabic, English and Japanese. That's rather unusual, especially that each script has its legibility requirements. Overall we managed to create a harmonious and intuitive look and feel that took into account the different scripts, legibility and accessibility. We equally worked on a colour palette that complemented the space and artefacts, as well as an illustrative language that bid homage to the rich visual heritage of Ancient Egypt without adding layers of interpretation. Our overall approach was conveying the content visually and intuitively without overwhelming visitors with textual copy. 

And all that had to be made a reality on site, of course...

Yijing Lu: Yes, it was not always easy to coordinate the different parties and technical planners and, at the same time, obtain decisions and approvals from the client. In the framework of project management, we had to coordinate the different teams from the areas of showcase construction, fit-out work, graphic design, light planning, media software planning and hardware planning. We also had to simultaneously supervise and manage the different tender and procurement processes. On the client side, correspondingly, the tasks were even more extensive. In order to keep track of everything, innumerable meetings and numerous presentations lasting several days were hold on site in Cairo or in our Stuttgart office.

One example of this was the 120 metre-long ceiling installation, the so-called “Path of the Sun”. When we were investigating the details of the ceiling, we started first with small models in order to test the different materials and clamps. Later, we collaborated with the executing company and developed a ten metre-long 1:1 prototype. To simulate the on-site situation, we then rented a ten metre-high hall to test the angles and the lighting.

Another very important requirement was that all exhibition elements have to be sufficiently protected against vandalism and that the hardware and software be aligned to the large number of expected visitors while remaining intuitively usable by different cultures and groups of visitors.

Shirin Frangoul-Brückner: There was also the special aspect that the GEM was a creation of the Egyptian military government. Our clients were generals, who sat at the table in uniform. In the beginning, this took some getting used to. But, in the end, a feature of every project is that people come together who have never worked with each other before and who then see how they can achieve something together, what language they speak and what decisions they make. 

In this context, it is interesting that all leadership positions in the parts of the project that ATELIER BRÜCKNER was responsible for were occupied by women. On the Egyptian side, in contrast, nearly all those involved were men...

Rana Rmeily: Of course, there are a lot of clichés about the role of women in Arab countries and, while problematic situations and circumstances do exist, I would not generalise and try to fit everyone within a singular flattened perception. I myself, born and raised in Lebanon, have always felt that I have the same opportunities as men in my surrounding with regard to how I develop and what I choose to do in life. Similarly in Egypt, women have played a huge role socially and politically in shaping the country throughout history, from ancient times to the present day. All in all, it can be said that cooperation throughout the project worked well and was a fruitful experience for everyone involved. 

And are you now looking forward to the opening?

Shirin Frangoul-Brückner: We look forward to the opening with excitement and anticipation. It is an important milestone for our office. And we are very happy to be a part of this project of the century!

-----------------

ATELIER BRÜCKNER designs exhibitions and architecture. Since 1997, it has been producing scenography that set standards in an international context. Designing scenographically means thinking in terms of space and content at the same time: creating experiential spaces that tell stories and convey history and knowledge.

Login / Sign up