Passive Archives, Museums and Art Galleries

Stable Environments for Precious Objects and People

Following the success of the Hereford Archive and Records Centre with Architype, we have worked on a number of high profile passive archives. Our approach is very much inspired and informed by the work of the late Tim Padfield and his colleagues in Denmark. We have also incorporated our Passivhaus experience of designing airtight and thermally sound buildings. See the resources page for technical papers on our approach.

We are also working on a number of existing museums, galleries and archives where there have been problems, often due to failure of complex and expensive air conditioning plant.

Air conditioning at end of life

The picture above is typical of a small archive plant room. It shows only part of the plant at Dorset History Centre. This has been turned off with the exception of a small chiller and dehumidifier servicing a photo store. Often simply turning off the air-conditioning can result in improved conditions and dramatic energy savings. However other measures are usually required to maintain good conditions from season to season. Every project throws up its own challenges to keep us interested.

HARC Passivhaus Certified Archive, Hereford 2013 – 2014

HARC passivhaus archiveWe worked with Architype to develop an approach to radically reduce the energy requirements for the new Herefordshire Archive and Records Centre. The energy strategy for the repository owes much to the work of Tim Padfield. This is the first Passivhaus Archive in the UK and the second in the world to be certified. It is also the first repository designed to the new Standard for archival materials storage, PD 5454.

Although this was the contractor’s first Passivhaus project, it seems likely that Kier Construction have delivered one of the most airtight buildings in the world!

The building was completed in January 2015 and we receive monthly data on conditions in the repositories.

Passivhaus Archive articleYou can download an in depth article on the Hereford Passivhaus Archive here. Article by Kate de Selincourt courtesy of Passive House Plus Magazine

Download a paper and presentation on the project as presented at the 25th International Passivhaus Confererence in Darmstadt here.
archive repo

passivhaus archive monitoring

Imperial War Museum Duxford 2018-2019 (Passivhaus Certified)

We have worked with Architype to design a large paper store designed for cool passive storage. The building is ground-coupled with no heating or cooling. It incorporates an innovative supply air dehumidification system developed with Alan Clarke and Andy Jarvis (E3) with additional inspiration from John Cantor. Completed in June 2019 you can read about the approach in this paper presented by Andy Jarvis at the 2018 Passivhaus Conference in Munich.

Hard evidence of HARCs performance has given the design team and client confidence allowing radically simplified plant. The airtightness achieved by the contractor Fabrite was 0.03 airchanges per hour at 50Pa. No tighter building is known. Airtightness is more important than insulation for an archive building with supply air dehumidification and no heating.

Thomas Thomson House National Records of Scotland 2019

Built in 1995 the repository wing of Thomas Thomson House contains 37km of racking with full environmental conditioning. As is usual the plant has degraded over the years and the cost of replacement is considerable. Architype and Elemental Solutions have carried out investigations to develop  a more passive solution to achieve suitable environmental conditions.

Archive conditions passive

The solid, potentially airtight construction and rectangular form mean that this is one of the simpler retrofit challenges we have faced, although every project has unique challenges. Low cost experiments, spreadsheet modelling and ongoing monitoring allow proof of concept before undertaking more permanent improvements.

One important lesson from this project was that dramatic early improvements by very simple measures meant that our recommended long term measures were not carried out.

St Andrews Library Store

This existing repository building was suffering from poor environmental conditions. Working with Architype  we have been able to move to a more passive strategy. This has stabilised the environment and dramatically reduced energy consumption. We are managing to achieve this by using the existing plant but with some hardware and software changes. We carried out air tightness testing with Thermal Image UK and helped builders implement improvements to the building airtightness.

Mould spores in archive

Programming controls

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery 2018

Working with Architype and the museum and gallery conservators, we are exploring the potential to reduce energy consumption and improve conditions for staff and objects. We have carried out experimental airtightness measures and measured the results by monitoring CO₂ levels and overnight decay. Our usual approach of carrying out a blower door test was not considered practical for this site.Birmingham museum gallery

CO2 monitoring

Dorset History Centre 2017-2019

Implementing the recommendations from the earlier consultancy by Tim Padfield, we worked with Architype and the Council’s in-house engineers to implement a more passive approach to maintaining suitable conditions for the collection. We carried out airtightness testing and thermal imaging followed by some light-touch interventions to build on earlier experiments to run the stores with the air conditioning turned off. Monitoring during the summer of 2018 allowed us to confirm that temperatures would be acceptable without cooling. As is often the case when working with existing archive buildings, we are taking a very hands-on step-by-step approach.

A simple low-power, supply-air dehumidification system has been installed with radiators for winter heating avoiding the need for air recirculation and associated leakage and energy loss.

Dorset History Centre Archive Store

Thermal imaging

Alan Clarke looking for thermal bridges and associated cool areas that might cause local variation in RH in the Dorset History Centre repositories.

airtightness test of archive walls

Estimating the air infiltration through the walls during the blower door airtightness test.

National Galleries Scotland 2015

Working with Architype, we have carried out troubleshooting at a number of NGS buildings including Modern 1 Gallery in Edinburgh. These have led to very simple interventions achieving significant improvements in environmental conditions for art and people.

Infra red

art store airtightnessAlan Clarke (above) installing airtight insulated panels over window openings in an NGS art store. Simple measures such as improved airtightness and a change to the heating control achieved dramatic improvements in storage conditions.

NGS Gallery survey

Rob White of Architype (above) checks temperature, CO₂ and RH. Our investigation led to improvements in environmental conditions for the art and the staff.