15_Roisin Heneghan and Shih-Fu Peng

heneghan.peng

Monumentalists

The competition to build the Grand Museum of Egypt in Giza was the largest architectural contest in history, drawing 1,557 designs from 83 countries. The challengers were some of the field's most prestigious, with Pritzker Prize-winner Zaha Hadid and the decontructivist Viennese firm Coop Himmelblau among them. But the winner was a tiny Dublin shop called heneghan.peng. All but unknown outside Ireland, heneghan.peng had already snagged a number of important commissions locally, including one for which they beat out Daniel Libeskind. But the Giza project, which is slated for completion in 2007, instantly ordained them a firm to watch in the coming decade.

We talked with one of the firm's principals, Roisin Heneghan, about the impact of their victory.


Were you surprised to win this competition?

We couldn't believe it. We called back and said, "Are you sure?"

You must have had some sense that you were finalists. . . .

We did get a letter saying we were in the last 20. The postman almost didn't deliver it. He just handed it to someone and said, "Here, bring it up to them."

What was the biggest challenge in this competition?

How do you build a major museum in its own right beside the greatest structures that have ever been built? If it's too dominant, you start to take away from the environment in which the pyramids were set.

So how did you resolve that conundrum?

There's a 150-foot difference in levels at the site, so we embedded the museum between them, creating a new cliff face. Coming out of Cairo, you never see the building at the same level as the pyramids. Plus, from inside the museum itself you can see all three pyramids.

What else did the judges like?

The translucent stone faÌÎå_ade, which changes from day to night. Its fractal design echoes the pyramids.

How has winning this competition changed your firm?

When we entered, there were three of us. Now there are 24, plus 14 people in Cairo. Growing that fast was difficult. They don't teach you that in design school.

Where did you meet?

We were both in the same architectural theory course at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. We did a paper together on Bernard Tschumi's La Villette in Paris. Shih did most of the work.

What's the secret to the heneghan.peng collaboration?

Shih-Fu and I are married.

How does that work out?

Oh, you know. It's got its ups and downs. You tend never to leave the work behind.

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