Conservation : Physiochemistry of the objects

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  • Conservation

    Physiochemistry of the objects

    The museum as a meeting-place may be considered from either the objective or the subjective point of view, according as to whether the emphasis is placed on the social sciences or on the exact sciences of physics and chemistry. To deal with the problem, a combination of elements from both these fields of knowledge should be employed.

    The objects in museums may be divided into three groups: (a) real things created by man or by nature and possessing original value; (b) reproductions, models or copies which, in certain conditions, may have the same value as the originals; (c) audio-visual and other aids to interpretation, which are becoming increasingly important.

    The conservation experts task is to preserve, with the help of physical chemistry, objects whose unique character and fragility call for a great variety of treatments. The greatest care must be taken with originals; the following remarks in this connexion should make it possible to pinpoint the problems. The archaeological museum, which calls for strict conservation measures, serves as a fitting model in this context.

    At the present time, faced as we are with a glut of information, original objects are the only sources of information which are constant and authentic and which cannot be tampered with. It is for just this reason that they never cease to afford new possibilities of interpretation. The original is the basis of the museum, its very raison dtre and the standard by which it is judged.

    The science and technology which are involved here in a great variety of ways make strict demands which can be clearly stated. It is not possible to deal with all the details in the context of this article. From the point of view of the architecture, however, one can, proceeding by simplification, reduce the fight against the ageing process, which in itself is ineluctable, to a common denom- inator: all conservation work is aimed at protecting the object against the depredations and the changing conditions of nature and placing it in a wholly or partly artificial, constant environment.

    In the same line of thought, the concept of conservation also extends to protection against damage and theft, since this has similar architectural implications.

    It is here that we come into seemingly insurmontable conflict with that trend in the social sciences which calls for the removal of all barriers and maximum contact with the exhibit, free access from outside and integration into the environment, free access to all objects inside the museum, open display (including the problem of maximum capacity) and hence a normal environment for the object and the visitor, and physical displacement of

  • , 206 Conservation

    objects so as to extend their sphere of influence, for example lending out for study purposes, etc. (Fig. 90).

    All of this is in complete contradiction with the requirements of conserva- tion which are based on the idea of there being a closed and constant environ- ment. The most advanced trends in sociology, in which openness is a key idea, and the demand of physical chemistry for a closed environment are diametri- cally opposed. It is therefore not surprising that the fundamental task of con- servation should be called into question and that the idea of a conservation- oriented museum clashes with that of a consumer-oriented museum. In this controversy, the stakes are high on both sides, but, in one case, the loss is irreparable. It is usually the exact sciences that win out, as they can offer a verifiable demonstration of their case, but this demonstration should not take the form of set formulae and simplifications, but of an intensive study of each particular case, In the field of social psychology, it is not possible to give such clear proof of destructions.

    Museum architecture must unquestionably meet both requirements as best it can, but placing the emphasis on one or the other, depending on the case. The social and psychological aspects should be considered in relation to con- servation and vice versa, this dialectical relationship determining the archi- tecture of the museum. Moreover, building entails an irrevocable decision. It is thus in the organization of space that the possibility of giving a new dimen- sion to these irreconcilable principles, and providing, where appropriate, a three-dimensional solution, is to be sought.

    Starting off with total conservation and going on to intermediate adjustable solutions, we shall present architectural models aimed at showing the different degrees of priority given to human or material considerations.

    In order to get as near as possible to an ideal state of conservation, the objects are kept in optimum technological conditions: Hermetic sealing-off from the outside world, with no inlets for heat, cold, etc. Temperature and humidity automatically maintained at a constant level by

    mechanical devices. Minimum access so as to avoid disturbances caused by the heat or humidity

    given off by the human body. Extended visits being scarcely possible, even for study purposes, special rooms with transition zones (air-locks) must be installed for the objects.

    Exclusion of most natural and artificial light. Artificial ventilation with filtered air, etc. When conservation is the chief concern, the architecture of the museum becomes an essentially scientific problem and the architect an assistant to the specialized engineer in its solution. Although a project of this nature does not call for any differentiation in the use of space, as it is all intended for the same purpose, the architectural implications, especially in relation to the environ- ment, may be considerable. The various possibilities are usually as follows: The storage building conceived as a closed and more of less independent unit

    is, on the one hand, very important from the point of view of town-planning, but, on the other, it is difficult to translate into formal terms and to express its function (comparison with the silo) (Fig. 91).

    Storage space surrounded by other premises, a solution satisfactory only for small museums; when there are large stocks, functional deficiencies appear in the surrounding sectors;

    Underground storage rooms, installed beneath the museum or outside it, cause, from the point of view of town planning, little disturbance to environ-

    9 1 Town skyline. A museum (or museum store-room) which is closed on all sides for conservation reasons, does not fit easily into the urban landscape.

  • Physiochemistrv of the obiects 207

    ments which may have some general value worth preserving. An inter- mediate solution consists in placing the storage premises in an accessible

    building with a roof-garden, a childrens playground, etc., which fits into the landscape (Fig. YZ(LZ), (b)).

    If the reserves are placed in a separate building, they can be moved further away at will (to the suburbs, for instance) since, in any case, transportation is necessary. Objects should be transported to the museum in air-condi- tioned, shock-proof containers.

    Since objects may require very different conditions for conservation, one thing that needs to be done is to create separate climatic zones which continue right into the display sections; this means that if the principles of conservation are to be systematically respected, climatology will be a dominant factor in the organization of the museum, which also has repercussions on the architecture.

    It must be granted that neither the idea of establishing an order of priority within the collection from the point of view of conservation nor the resulting architecture can be satisfactory and that, in most cases, such solutions have to be rejected on the grounds that they make the museum a mere machine for

    9 (a) Underground store-room with car parks, childrens play areas, etc., above. Simplified cross-section:.

    conservation. The machinery of the museum is far too complex to be geared only to this one function. It works properly only when all the cogs are meshing. Optimum conditions-especially in towns-can be obtained only by employing heavy technical plant at considerable expense. Such technical means are, however, burdensome, and for this reason it is to be recommended that, as far as possible, only natural means should be employed.

    In the developing countries, research is being carried out into the protection of museum collections by means of architectural climatology, that is to say

    92 (6) MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, Brussels. Underground museum in an historic quarter. Simplified cross-section. I. Entrance; 2. Reception; 3. Temporary exhibitions; 4. Patio; >. Collections; 6. Museum square; 7. Museum road; 8. New sections; 9. Car park. Architects: Roger Bastin and Leo Beeck; arch. ass. Pierre Lamby and Guy Van Oost.

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    3 2 1

    4 9 --- A 4 6b

    I I-

    I-/ 93 Plan for the ideal museum with environmental control: buffered core for optimal environmental control. I. Core (maximum control); 2. Insulating corridor; 3 , Work areas, public areas; 4. Acclima- tization; 5 . Air-lock for main visitor traffic flow; 6. Minimal control: (a) Main foyer; (b) Shipping and receiving; 7. People; 8. Exhaust effect; 9. Works of art. Simplified ground-plan by Duncan Cameron (MzisezimNews, May 1968).

    94 Contact between visitor and exhibit: (a) direct contact; (b) the glass curtain effect.

    by applying the simple physical laws of construction so as to cut down the need to rely on technology. The simple method practised by Chinese museums, which consists in showing collections only when the seasonal macroclimate corresponds to the constant climate required by the exhibits, is not applicable everywhere. Figure 93 sho


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