Webinar: Green and Sustainable Art Collections

This webinar looks at how a green and sustainable art collection respects the needs of the environment, both today and in the future, allowing compliance with green building standards such as LEED v4, whilst also conserving art collections.

Webinar Transcript

And welcome to this ArtRatio webinar and this time it’s called ‘Green and Sustainable Art Collections’. I am your speaker; my name is Manoj Phatak. I’m a Chartered Engineer and the Founder and CEO of ArtRatio.

So let’s have a couple of definitions first of all: by ‘Green’ we mean ‘respectful of the environment’ and by ‘sustainable’ we mean that we’re meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future. And that definition of course comes from the United Nations. So when we put those two definitions together in the context of art, then we could define this as being ‘an art collection whose needs respect the environment, both today and in the future’. That’s what we mean by a green and sustainable art collection. So here is a quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Colors are Light’s Suffering and Joy”. Now there are many ways of interpreting this of course. The way that I personally interpret it is that ‘light brings pleasure through the improved perception of fine details and colors on works of art’ but ‘light also brings pain due to the deterioration of the artworks on display’.

So where can we find art exhibited? Well obviously, we find it in museums and galleries and corporate offices and private residences, but we can also find a lot of art exhibited throughout the year at art fairs, and auction houses, and hotel lobbies, corporate events for the banking sector, as well as airports and even superyachts. So the kind of risks we’re talking about here are, for example, abundant daylighting (sunlight), climate controls which are optimized for humans rather than art, as well as things like vibration, air pollution, accidents, theft, fire, and even static electricity.

So if there’s one organization which has dedicated its existence to the whole built environment and making it sustainable and green, of course it’s the World Green Building Council. This is a non-profit formed in 1993, composed of about 70 or so national councils, along with thousands of corporations. And green buildings of course aim to reduce the negative impacts on our natural environment, through the efficient use of water, energy, light, waste, pollution, and air quality etc, and in particular the US Green Building Council has been responsible for creating a standard called ‘Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’ or LEED, and this is sitting currently at version 4.

Now LEED version 4 awards 2 points for the adoption of at least 300 Lux in 50% of regularly occupied floor areas. And of course by doing this we’re trying to use more natural light and therefore reduce the amount of artificial lighting which reduces the carbon footprint of the building, and of course natural lighting (or daylight) is very good for humans. The trouble is of course if that building space also houses art collections, as in all the examples we saw before, everything from airports to super yachts, this would restrict the most sensitive objects in any art collection to very limited annual exhibition times. So other LEED v4 requirements related to light management include: light pollution reduction, these are external issues including night sky access and nighttime visibility, and interior issues to promote occupant productivity, comfort and provide personalized lighting control.

So Mandi Lew of Samuel Anderson Architects in New York has a very good quote, and they are winners of the LEED Gold Award for the Allen Memorial Art Museum and they are saying that museums are inherently not energy efficient because strict humidity and temperature control must be maintained at all times. Another document which is very relevant is the British Standards Institute PAS 198 document and they say that museums need to approach long term collections care in a way that does not require excessive use of energy. Another quote from that same document mentions that it’s time to shift museum policies and guidance given to architects to the conservation needs of different categories of objects and they can have widely different requirements. So we can conclude from that that blanket solutions are not the way forward.

So have a look at this table, this is lifted out from CIE Technical Report 157, and it lists the different categories of objects, the most important the most sensitive ones are CIE category 4, which are classified as ‘highly sensitive’ and examples of this would be silk and newspapers and fugitive colorants such as indigo, lake or gamboge. And the maximum recommended illuminance would be 50 lux and the maximum exposure throughout one year would be 15,000 lux hours in a year. Now 15,000 lux hours in a year could be achieved by having 15,000 lux for one hour, or by having 1 lux for 15,000 hours. Both of them would give you the same overall amount of energy which is being impacted on the art collection. So even if you take this top example of highly sensitive materials and you expose them to 50 lux of daylight, over let’s say 3000 hours per year, which might be a typical exhibition times, then materials such as silk and paper would suffer ‘noticeable deterioration’ between 1.5 and 10 years and that’s if you have daylight components with UV. Okay, so that assumes that you don’t have any special UV filtering on your glass. And don’t forget, normal float glass will let through, it will transmit, UVA. It will block UVB but it will still transmit UVA and that can still do a lot of damage to art objects, or art collections.

Okay, so if you look at a typical model for light exposure on art collections you have a light source kicking down about 300 Lux through some glass which might have a variable transmittance, let’s say 0 to 50%, that’s assuming of course we are using some kind of dynamic glass or switchable glass, as we do at ArtRatio, which means that getting through the coming through the glass would be from 0 to 150 lux shining down onto your beautiful work of art, which might have a maximum exposure of 15,000 Lux hours in a year, according to the example we saw before. And if you multiply that by 365 hours in a year so that’s about a tenth of the time of the overall year that’s actually being put on display, with that you’d still get a light exposure of 54,750 Lux hours in a year. And of course that is considerably more than the 15,000 Lux hours which is recommended by the CIE. Now you can calculate all of that out with a spreadsheet. I’ve got such a spread sheet already, so if you’d like to have a copy of that please contact me and I’d be delighted to work with you.

So let’s look at a couple of museums which are LEED compliant. And this is the very first one: the Grand Rapids Art Museum and they achieved LEED Gold back in 2008. They have heat recovery ventilators, and CO2 sensors. Another one is the Broad Art Museum which again achieved LEED Gold this is based in Los Angeles, and they have electric car charging stations and bike parking spaces. And the Harvard Art Museums, again LEED Gold, and they have thousands of sensors monitoring the indoor climate and shades covering the glass roof, to allow in natural light. And then we have the Corning Museum of Glass, this is actually the Contemporary Art and Design wing which achieved LEED Silver, and they have about 900 skylights and they use LED lighting to reduce energy consumption. So how many more of these sustainable art collections are there in the world? Well, there are probably a lot more than appear on this list, these ones tend to show LEED because they were gauged against the US compliance with the LEED standard. But there are quite a few more as you can see also in the UK.

And here is an ArtRatio client, the National Museum of Sweden, and their focus in redesigning this beautiful building was to ‘let in the light’, as they said in their initial brief. And we were very pleased to deliver one table using smart glass to try and reduce light damage on some of the oldest objects in their collection, a series of 15th century Books of Hours. You can find more on the ArtRatio blog which talks about that particular project. Thank you very much for joining me on this webinar.

A quick shout out to our institutional partners which include the Museums Association, LAPADA, The Institute of Conservation and SEAHA. And I look forward to joining you or seeing you on another webinar from ArtRatio at some point in the future. Thank you very much.