Designing museums with a naturally stable climate
This article is an extended version of the talk given by Tim Padfield to the Annual General Meeting of the International Institute for Conservation, January 2004.
The architecture of museums has developed in a way that diminishes the natural protection previously afforded to collections by the thermal inertia of massive masonry construction, the limited solar radiation through relatively small glass areas and the release of internally generated heat through a large ratio of exposed wall to volume. Mechanical air conditioning is now nearly universal in new public buildings, even in climates where air conditioning has not previously been thought necessary, so that climate control has been decoupled from architecture. A paradox of modern design and modern materials is that passive humidity stability can now be provided more easily than before, because buildings are more airtight, while natural thermal stability is reduced, because structures are more lightweight, often have vast expanses of glass facade and have a small ratio of wall area to volume.
Relative humidity can be stabilised by moisture absorbent wall plasters and condensation can be minimised by porous walls. These methods of moderating the indoor climate have been pioneered by researchers in human health, designing dwellings. These innovations have not yet influenced the design of large public buildings, such as museums. This is probably because the demand for constancy in the museum climate is now so strict that it is impossible to achieve by non-mechanical means. In museum stores an annual temperature cycle is permitted. There are now several examples of stores whose climate is mainly controlled by passive methods, combined with simplified mechanical systems.
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