Virtual Design Analysis Group is a division of NVentum, LLC.

This unique collaborative endeavor; to utilize the latest reality capture technology to document the artifacts, buildings and campus of History San Jose, provides opportunities for private sector, non-profits and institutions of higher education to work together to solve some of today's most pressing engineering issues. The protocol for retrofitting as-built historic facilities and the use of new technologies to preserve our most prized historic treasures are vital to the continued success and expanded influence of our museums.
This blog will document the challenges and successes of this ambitious, one of a kind project.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Museums And Environmental Management

My introduction to the unique world of museums came in 1996 while working for the City of San Jose. I was responsible for coordinating the America's Smithsonian Tour which was scheduled to visit San Jose in August of 1997. I was about to get a crash course in indoor environmental management from people who were not only experts in the field but charged with the unbelievable task of protecting our country's greatest treasures as they are being transported from state to state and from facility to facility.

Prior to this, I had some experience with clients who had stringent environmental standards, or so I thought. In my early career working in concert production, I worked with several artist who were extremely particular about the condition of their "space". Issues surrounding room temps, humidity, types of bedding,  food, transportation; you name it, I've dealt with it in some way shape or form.

San Jose Center for the Performing Arts
Later, while working in San Jose's Downtown theaters I ran into similar challenges with clients, lessees and guest. The SJ Ballet needed the rehearsal areas above certain temperatures or the dancers would experience leg cramps and other discomfort. Symphony San Jose needed the theater's temperature between certain levels at all times; if the room got below a certain level, the brass instruments would go flat. If the room exceeded a certain temperature, there were problems with string instruments. These seem fairly simple issues to resolve however you are dealing with a rehearsal space that is 2000 square feet and you are trying to maintain a set temperature not only in that space but the entire 30,000 square foot room, you are going to have inconsistencies, cold spaces, drafts, etc.. This is especially true when you are dealing with buildings that are decades old and maintained on shoes string budgets. In short, I was quite accustomed to being cursed at by conductors, directors and production managers for our inability to control the environmental and mechanical systems in our facilities.

Welcome America's Smithsonian to San Jose. Can you imagine being responsible for transporting and caring for treasures like Martha Washington's Inaugural Gown, Abraham Lincoln's Top Hat or NASA's original lunar rover? I don't want to minimize the Ballet Dancer's leg cramps but these exhibits definitely kicked the conversations about our internal environmental problems into another gear.
Mary Todd Lincoln's Silver Service
America's Smithsonian

When I received the list of items to be exhibited at our facility, I was immediately taken by the enormity of this project. Yes, they were bringing Martha Washington's Inaugural Gown and Lincoln's top hat but they were also bringing $40 million worth of rare gems, The Hope Diamond, the Freedom 7 Space Capsule, a collection of Jackie Kennedy's formal gowns, rare insect collections, priceless paintings, rare photographs, an Apollo 15 Space Suit, Tiffany Lamps, dinosaur fossils; a traveling sample of every aspect of the Smithsonian's vast collection of artifacts and treasures. There were rare items made of every type of material, both natural and man-made; from moon rocks to synthetic fibers, from wood to titanium, each of these rare items had its own unique requirements. I spent the next nine months immersing myself in the world of the Smithsonian curators. I was fascinated with the many facets of artifact preservation and the amount of care and detail required to maintain these treasures for public display. Over the next nine months, I learned from the industry's leaders about the harmful effects of poor environmental conditions on artwork, fabric, wood and metals.

Apollo 15 Space Suit
Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
The effect of the indoor environment on museum objects has received much more attention from museum and conservation staff during the last 100 years. Negative effects caused by variations in the relative humidity of air have been observed and described for at least the last one hundred years, and so has the effect of temperature, and light exposure. But pollutants in the indoor museum environment receive much less attention. One reason is the effect of indoor air pollutants is not always obvious. Some deterioration types are easily recognized, like corrosion, mold and mildew. But other decay processes are more hidden and harder to detect, such as loss of fiber strength in a material. In fact, pollutants are rarely the only factor in a deterioration process. It is the interaction with relative humidity, temperature, and even other pollution compounds which cause deterioration.

Abraham Lincoln's Top Hat
America's Smithsonian
Indoor air pollution is not an easy problem to address. There are literally hundreds of compounds in the average indoor air environment that are considered "pollutants". These compounds originate from just as many sources, and while a compound may be very aggressive towards one type of material it may be harmless toward other materials.

Modern approaches towards fighting indoor air pollutants have been adapted from the human health and ergonomics field of science. While the technology from that field, such as air measuring methods, will be a useful tool, other approaches are not necessarily adaptable when dealing with the preservation of museum objects. Unlike human beings, museum objects are intended to last for centuries. Unlike the human body which can heal again if exposed to small doses of poisonous substances, toxic materials in artifacts will accumulate from any attack, slowly decaying more and more. Therefore even small exposures to pollutants will have a cumulative effect on artifact preservation over time.
Apollo 15 Lunar Rock
America's Smithsonian

Museums and Special Indoor Air Quality Issues
Many museums tend to store objects in airtight and confined boxes like display cases or storage containers. If a display case is made of a pollution emitting material, the pollutants will be released and kept within the case together with the museum objects. An example of this could be a display cabinet made of oak wood, which is known to release formic and acetic acid vapors.

The Hooker Diamonds
America's Smithsonian
In open galleries or storage rooms these problems are less common, except when large surfaces acts as pollution sources, like newly painted walls or new flooring coverings. Larger open galleries and warehouses have a different set of challenges when it comes to pollutants and air quality. Maintaining uniform temperatures, consistent circulation, sufficient filtration and acceptable humidity levels are the biggest source of concern for these types of operations.
The Hope Diamond
America's Smithsonian

We've all seen the affects of moisture and humidity of fabrics and clothes. We've all seen blacken and/or tarnished silver but probably weren't aware that the cause is often the affects of various sulphur compounds in the environment. (The source of the sulphur may be sulphur containing materials like wool or rubber found in carpets.)
'Modern' metals like aluminium, zinc, and magnesium has also shown to be sensitive to attack from pollutants originating from common construction materials, like wood, paints, and adhesives.
There are "self-polluting" artifacts like certain plastics and cellulose acetate used in film that give off various pollutants as the deterioration process progresses. There are the well documented negative affects of light pollution on artwork, specifically paintings. The list of materials and concerns for their preservation goes on and on. It's much more extensive than I can articulate as a layman.
This was my introduction to the world of the museum curator and the business of artifact preservation.

San Jose McEnery
Convention Center
The Exhibit Environment
America's Smithsonian was schedule to begin installation at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center in late July of 1997. The space they would occupy is a typical "Black Box" exhibit hall; 4 walls, a floor and a ceiling. The space was 100,000 square feet with 30' tall ceilings and 24" thick reinforced concrete floors. Under the best of circumstances, cooling the exhibit halls in the summer was a time consuming process.  The exhibit halls had two 25' wide x 18' tall loading dock doors which were open to allow the tractors trailers that were transporting the exhibits to drive into the building to drop off their cargo. We would use this same process to facilitate the set up for the Smithsonian exhibit. The challenge with this strategy was the weather. This was the month of July with average temperatures in the low 90s. The open loading dock doors meant we would be unable to adequately cool the exhibit space in time for the installation of the artifacts. Even if the air conditioning system was operating at peak performance, which it wasn't, it would be 24 hours after the loading dock doors closed before the thick concrete floors would cool down enough to sustain an acceptable room temperature to display the various exhibits. This was one of the major logistical concerns for the building of the exhibit.
Freedom 7 Space Capsule
America's Smithsonian

However, the logistical concerns came late in the game.  It was the preservation of the artifacts that were first and foremost in the minds of the exhibit organizers. (You'd think it would be security but the U.S. Marshall and the  FBI  left nothing to chance.) I got my first indication of the enormity of the task at hand when one of the  curators told me that Abraham Lincoln's top hat was so delicate that if it were exposed to ambient air and light for any extended amount of time, it would literally fall apart. The environmental concerns started in August of 1996; one year prior to the installation of the Smithsonian exhibit. Those environmental  concerns didn't end until the last tractor trailer left San Jose.

Martha Washington's Gown
America's Smithsonian
How would we achieve and maintain a 68 to 72 degree temperature range in an exhibit space that large during the month of August? Can we sustain that temperature level with 10,000 people per day moving through the exhibits? There are other events happening in adjacent exhibit halls. What type of events are happening and are there concerns about contaminants from other shows impacting the Smithsonian exhibits? How will traffic from these other events effect airflow and temperature in the facility?  How about insect infestation? Fumigation of the entire facility is a must but when and how does it affect other operations in the building? How about the fluorescent lighting throughout the facility? Convention Center lighting would have to be replaced by temporary theatrical lighting systems to protect the artifacts. The questions were constant and the task was daunting, to say the least.
Aggreko Air Conditioning Unit

Long story short, we rented supplemental air conditioning system at the cost of $1 million for the month of August. The curators went through the building with a fine toothed comb checking for things that could negatively impact the artifacts and exhibits. They thoroughly examined the facility's HVAC system, they made sure all air filters were replace, they had the entire building fumigated, including the lower level garages; they left nothing to chance and no stone unturned in preparing the facility for the installation and exhibition of the nation's artifacts.

By the close of the 30 day exhibit, over 330,000 visitors attended the America's Smithsonian Exhibition at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center. The monumental task of maintaining the strict environmental standards of one of the world's premiere museums was a major success for the City of San Jose. However in retrospect, the thought of the environmental impact of this event never crossed our minds. This was 1997 and the concept of an exhibition having a "carbon footprint" of any kind was unheard of. Though by today's standards of "green" or "sustainable" events, it does raise a few questions. For example, the convention center's 100MW CoGen system operating at full power 24 hours per day for 36 straight days, the 60MW Generator rented from Aggreko to supplement our HVAC system, the thirty plus tractor trailers, the support vehicles and aircraft used to transport the artifacts; not to mention any of specialty vehicles or altered vehicles that were need to transport the most fragile artifacts.

The general public has no idea of the cost associated with managing, operating and sustaining a public assembly facility. If the general public was more in tune with the expenses of maintaining and operating museums, theaters, convention centers, arenas and auditoriums, there would be a much more aggressive move towards sustainable construction and retrofits. The cost to the City of San Jose for hosting the 30 day America's Smithsonian Exhibition was well into seven figures 14 years ago. The need to maximize the performance of our public facilities is not only a environmental necessity, it is an economic necessity.

 NVentum and the San Jose History Park
When we decided to find a facility to demonstrate BIM technology and showcase its' myriad applications, my experience with the curators of America's History Museum was first and foremost in my thought process. What better way to demonstrate the benefits  or explore new applications for  this technology than to feature a world class history museum? A local museum with a vast array of artifacts that span centuries of culture and technology. History San Jose is that institution. We are fortunate to have this rare opportunity right here in our own backyard. I am also very fortunate to have an opportunity to apply the knowledge I've gained over the years to a project that  I am passionately committed to.

1 comment:

  1. nice post and thanks for the valuable images related to environment.

    Environmental Management