In the Spring 2011 issue of NYU’s alumni magazine there is an article detailing the pressures facing art conservationists to protect more than the masterpieces on display. Those who have stepped foot into an art museum are familiar with the cool air that permeates the building. The high cost of energy and the carbon emissions associated with most electricity generation have led museums to rethink their heavy reliance on air-conditioning. Unfortunately, the current standards for art preservation call for a narrow range of temperatures and humidity. However, the article points out that these standards are changing slightly (“raising the temperature range from 67–73 degrees Fahrenheit to 59–77 degrees. The range of relative humidity also rose to between 40–60 percent, up from 45–55 percent.”) The wider range in temperatures and humidity does not require constant cooling and heating of the museum’s interior. In the past, if the temperature was below (or above) the old range, heating and cooling were required to keep the temperature within the narrow 6 degree range.
New York University received a grant to study sustainability in cultural heritage. Specifically, the Conservation Center at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts received a $190,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
According to the National Museum Directors’ Conference, “There is a recognition that museums need to approach long-term collections care in a way that does not require excessive use of energy, whilst recognising their duty of care to collections.”
The following are a set of guiding principles for museums concerning energy usage. (The full document can be found here).
- Environmental standards should become more intelligent and better tailored to clearly identified needs. Blanket conditions should no longer apply. Instead conditions should be determined by the requirements of individual objects or groups of objects and the climate in the part of the world in which the museum is located.
- Care of collections should be achieved in a way that does not assume air-conditioning or any other current solutions. Passive methods simple technology that is easy to maintain, and lower energy solutions should be considered.
- Natural and sustainable environmental controls should be explored and made maximum use of. Including for instance:
- Buildings with high thermal mass
- High thermal insulation
- Low air exchange
- Local control using microclimates – display cases
- Glazed and backed paintings
- Maximising the moisture buffering effect of the building and the materials used within it
- When designing and constructing new buildings or renovating old ones, architects and engineers should be guided to significantly reduce significantly the building’s carbon footprint as a primary objective. They should be encouraged and enabled to fully understand the past and present environmental performance of existing spaces and required to produce a guide to the most energy efficient use of the building.