French architect designs undersea museum for ruins of Alexandria

Known for his underwater constructions, French architect Jacques Rougerie has designed an undersea museum for the city of Alexandria in Egypt.

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The project, first discussed back in 1996 had been shelved in 2011 following the Arab Spring, but Egyptian authorities recently announced that the subaquatic showcase is back on the agenda. Here, Jacques Rougerie reminds us what his spectacular project is all about.

Why did you submit plans for this project?

It's a fascinating assignment. The museum is located in the mythical bay of Alexandria, the resting place of the remains of Cleopatra's palace and the royal port of the galleys.

How did you choose to structure the museum?

The exterior part features a large open-air stone slab, a promenade with statues of the Pharaoh and the queen, as well as a selection of sphinxes brought up from the bay by Franck Goddio (the French underwater archeologist). The exhibition rooms are located underneath, on two levels. After that, there's a corridor that leads to Cleopatra's palace and the royal port of the galleys. This will be used to exhibit statues found on-site in glass tubes filled with water. When you arrive in the large underwater room, you'll see a certain number of ruins and statues in their genuine locations.

A second part of the museum looks like sails in the water. Why did you add that?

It is a symbolic creation inspired by the bay of Alexandria and its great lighthouse, which was a fabled place in global culture, shining its light out in all four cardinal directions. This is the theme I used, embodied in four felucca sails (a felucca is small traditional sailboat). The sails are made from frosted glass and are bathed in light.

What are the challenges of building a museum in this location?

First of all, the pollution. Water is filtered to remove pollution from the area, but not all of the bay is filtered, as that would be too expensive. There needs to be sufficient visibility through the water while still keeping an air of mystery around the site.

Next, great care has to be taken around the ruins. Everything that's found in a zone where we will be building for the project needs to be meticulously identified and listed.

The second part, with the four felucca sails, will be built like a boat in a dry dock, where incredible ocean liners are made. The structure will then be transported on trailers to the bay of Alexandria.

Why keep the statues in the water rather than exhibit them in a traditional manner?

Nothing can replace reality. Coming to such a legendary place -- right to the foot of Cleopatra's palace -- is more moving than simply rebuilding the palace elsewhere. It's a question of perception. Being in the real, authentic place has a much stronger impact than trying to imagine it.

Which is your favorite piece among the artifacts on show?

The black goddess. She is an extraordinary beauty, of a kind I have never seen before. I have never seen such sensually draped robes on a statue.



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