The National Preservation Conference is this week in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Staff members from around the National Trust for Historic Preservation will be blogging from the conference and sharing their experiences. Yesterday, two members of our staff participated in the Site Directors meeting, and came away with a lot of thoughts surrounding technology, sustainability, and preservation at our sites. Below are their reports.
At every National Preservation Conference, the Site Directors of National Trust Historic Sites meet for a day and a half to discuss issues of mutual concern—many are the same issues facing the thousands of historic sites across the nation. This meeting includes topics such as measuring success, insurance, image management systems, heritage travel, and the current souring economy. A thought-provoking discussion on the value of air conditioning in historic buildings noted that the widely adopted 1991 New Orleans Charter calls for a balance between the needs of buildings and the collections they house, however, there has been no agreement how this should be achieved.
Barbara Campagna, Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, explored several recent projects at National Trust Historic Sites that questioned the benefit of high tech solutions and proprietary systems due to the damage they caused to historic buildings, the high capital and maintenance costs, and more seriously, failure to operate as planned. (Details on these projects can be found in Barbara's report below.) New projects at Cliveden and Woodrow Wilson House offer potential strategies that could be far less intrusive and expensive, while achieving reasonable levels of preservation for both the buildings and collections. These include allowing wider tolerances of temperature and humidity, focusing on controlling humidity rather than temperature, focusing on the rate rather than range of change in temperature and humidity, changing visitor behavior (e.g., altering tour routes or time spent in each location), and relocating functions (e.g., separating staff and collections storage areas).
This may not always meet the standards of current museum practices nor provide ideal comfort for visitors or staff in every season, but these strategies seem to be better long term sustainable ones for preservation.
As funding allows, NTHP will be pursuing this further through additional studies with the intent of developing best and future practices for climate management at historic sites.
- Max van Balgooy
Max is director of interpretation and education for National Trust Historic Sites.
The National Trust is launching a National Initiative on Historic Sites as a means to assist historic sites struggling with issues of long term sustainability. One of the key issues that has been impacting the financial, programmatic and building fabric aspects of our sites is the appropriate installation and use of environmental management systems. I am leading this component of our Initiative and used this meeting to initiate the discussion among all of our directors and pose some rhetorical questions to get them thinking. We are not alone among cultural institutions that have discovered over the past decade that many of the new HVAC (heating, ventilating and cooling) systems that we’ve been installing have often caused more problems than they have solved. A basic reality that we discussed was whether we’ve been asking the right questions.
Rather than start a project by asking what kind of HVAC system we want, we should be asking what kind of uses our buildings and spaces need and can support. Do we even need HVAC systems? Should we be rethinking our programming first?
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