Thursday, February 19, 2009

Energy consumption in museums and galleries– what can we do about it?

Giving the IIC Forbes Lecture in 2004 Andreas Burmester, the director of the Doerner Institute in Munich, obliquely identified where he felt that current environmental standards for museums and galleries were going wrong. He had just finished acting as consultant to a new art gallery in Munich, the Museum Brandhorst, and had realised he had unwittingly been part of creating an unsustainable example of an environmentally controlled space.

Whilst the standard parameters he had dictated for climate and light levels( 22 degrees C, 55% RH, 50 lux for works on paper etc) had been achieved, the cost of maintaining them in a heavily glazed modern building, is massive. In addition, the technology involved, using computerised louvres and a vast HVAC plant, meant that the moment there was a powercut the entire system would close down and the building would essentially become an oven in summer and a freezer in winter. Contrast this with the existing 19th century art gallery, the Alte Pinakothek, which is not only extremely efficient to heat by hot air from the boilers in the cellars radiating up through the walls, but also thanks to its 6 ft thick walls, able to maintain internal conditions should there be a power cut for a significant time thanks to the thermal mass of the building.

But where to now, having created the international environmental standards that any self respecting gallery must comply with in order to be eligible for loans? The bad news is that there is unlikely to be any immediate loosening of these standards. However the possible good news is that the UK Council of Museum Directors have commissioned a review of the standards in the light of the energy requirements that result from them, and MAY end up recommending some relaxation of them.

Meanwhile, there is lots of good stuff going on at an individual institutional level to see how energy costs can be reduced, whilst maintaining acceptable conditions for storage and display of collections, the so called ‘preservation equation’. Both the National Museum of Australia and the Australian War Memorial have undertaken significant research into the capacity of various material types to cope with more relaxed environmental standards. And the State Library of Victoria experimented with turning its HVAC system in the book stacks off in October 2008 to gauge the effect on the environment and energy savings.

We’ve teamed up with leading environmental engineers Steensen Varming to help institutions look at ways in which they can potentially reduce their energy costs whilst still maintaining their collections in optimum conditions, and I expect to be writing more about this shortly.

1 comment:

  1. someone should add a comment to this. you spent a lot of time research the museums and such. No one has said anything. So HERE YOU GO: