The presentation of the keys to the new building represented the fulfilment of a decade-long dream: from the moment it opened in 1970, the museum’s previous location in the Hofgarten wing of the Munich Residence was only meant to function as an interim solution. As beautiful as the rooms may have been from an objective point of view, their lack of any of the sort of infrastructure expected from modern museums – such as a lecture hall, museum shop, cloakroom, proper rooms for museum education and special exhibitions or even simply wheelchair accessibility – had, with the rising number of visitors in the last few years, started to reflect negatively on the museum itself. Also, thanks to a series of new acquisitions and gifts, the museum had become too small and could no longer fulfil conservational requirements for the delicate objects. In addition, the existence of two separate locations – exhibition rooms in the Residence and office, restoration workshops and magazines in the Meiserstrasse – proved to be time- and cost- intensive.
The new building has not only given the Egyptian Museum an edifice fulfilling all of the technical and functional exigencies of a museum, and uniting all of its departments under one roof for the first time, but also proudly stands as one of the few museum building in the world outside of Egypt to be devoted entirely to Ancient Egyptian artefacts. Additionally, the new location in the centre of the Kunstareal, between the Pinakotheks and the Antiquity museums on Königsplatz, sets Egypt in its proper place within the history of art.
The first ideas for a new building were spawned as early as the 1970s under the previous director Dietrich Wildung, leading ten years later to a first (unsuccessful) architecture competition. In the following decades, various standing buildings were proposed as a new home for the collection, yet none were able to provide a workable concept.
The uniqueness of the new museum is reflected in its architecture: the exhibition rooms lie underneath the green area in front of the School for Film and Television and are thus entirely subterranean. What, at first, seems to correspond to the usual vision of Ancient Egypt as a land of tombs and crypts, soon reveals itself as a “descent into the light”: down a wide stairway leading even further underground, the visitor emerges into large, cathedral-like rooms bathed in sunlight filtering in from a sunken atrium. The rest of the tour leads through alternating high, broad halls and more intimate, smaller rooms, with unexpected fenestrations giving glimpses of masterpieces already visited and yet to come. Nowhere is the architecture truly egyptianizing – and yet, various details spark visions of Egyptian temple rooms and royal tombs within the visitor’s mind.
Designed by Peter and Gottfried Böhm in close association with the museum team, this architecture espouses the permanent exhibition’s new concept. No longer is the visitor led through a chronological panorama of Egyptian history, but instead discovers a series of halls dedicated to individual themes of Egypt’s art and culture.
With their 1800 square metres (about 19,375 square feet), the new rooms offer more than three times as much space as the previous location – not counting an additional hall designed exclusively for special exhibitions.