Aga Khan Award for Architecture

Nubian Museum

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Egypt, Aswan
 
 

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Nubian Museum, 1997
Nubian Antiquities Salvage Fund, Supreme Council of Antiquities
Architect: Mahmoud Al-Hakim
Consultants: The Arab Bureau for Design and Technical
Landscape Architects: Werkmeister, M. Heimer, Laila Al-Masry Stino

Taking its name from the ancient Egyptian "nbu", meaning "gold", is reference to the area's famous gold mines, Nubia was historically Egypt's gateway to the rest of Africa. From the time of old Kingdom, circa 2500 BC, Nubia went through alternating periods of independence and domination by Egypt, and by the 25th Dynasty, it was enjoying long periods of stable self-rule and prosperity.

Today, there is no political entity called Nubia. Its land lie party in Egypt and partly in Sudan, and most of the northern region was submerged in 1971, when Aswan High Dam was opened as a section of the Nile Valley flooded to form Lake Nasser. In anticipation of this project, 40,000 Nubians were resettled and an International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia was formed. Launched by UNESCO in 1960, the campaign conducted forty archeological missions and rescued 22 monuments. To exhibit the finds from the excavations, UNESCO decided, with the Egyptian government, to establish the Nubian Museum at Aswan and the Egyptian Civilization Museum in Cairo.

Exhibiting 3000 objects and celebrating the culture and civilization of the Nubian region from prehistoric times to the present, the Nubian Museum opened in December 1997. Funded entirely by the Egyptian government, the museum is an important center for African and Middle Eastern archeology and museology and also a vital "community museum", with an educational section, the first in Egypt, that organizes trips, lectures and workshops for schoolchildren and cultural events for the public at large.

Sited on the eastern bank of the Nile near an ancient granite quarry, the museum is placed on a ridge to preserve the site's rock formations and to provide an open view of two of Aswan's key attractions: The Fatimid Cemetery and the unfinished Obelisk to the east. the massing follows the terrain's contours, and the hand-textured local sandstone of its exterior enhances the building's relationship to the site. Oriented towards the Nile in the manner of traditional Nubian houses, the 10,000-square-meter building has its entrance on the west side, where a portico shades the main door from the sun. The open triangle motif used on the west facade is taken from traditional Nubian architecture and it is one of a number of traditional elements subtly incorporated into the design. Entering at ground level, visitors are led down to the main exhibition area, where they find the museum's centerpiece: A statue of Rameses II (1304-1237 BC), builder of the great temple at Abu Simbel. Like the facades, the walls and floors of the interior spaces are clad in a local material, in this case pink granite, while the ceiling of the exhibition areas are open-timber grids, providing maximum flexibility for installation of lights and services.

The scheme draws visitors through the museum building and out to an exterior exhibition area, designed to represent the Nile Valley. This area includes a cave housing pre-historic drawings of animals, and also features a traditional Nubian house, an outdoor theatre for 500 people, two shrines, the maqqam of Saida Zeinab and the maqqam of the 77 walis (governors), a musalla (place of prayer) and several graves, said to be Fatimid, Roman and Coptic in origin. A canal symbolizes the River Nile, which is surrounded by local flora and fauna. The institution is popular among the residents of Aswan, who are proud of their museum and feel that it reflects their way of life. The museum play an important role in informing both Egyptian and international visitors about Nubian culture, preserving an ancient civilization, while providing a focal point for today's community.

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Aga Khan Award for Architecture
 
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