Beauty of Art Preservation Machines

September 26, 2022  |  Madrid, Spain

The Beauty of Art Preservation Machines

Madrid, Spain, Architecture, Art

I enjoy art museums. I am attracted to the precision and perceptions found in the large-scale photographic work of Jeff Wall. I became downright misty-eyed when I viewed Ghiberti’s bronze panels from the Florence Baptistery during their exhibition in Chicago. I enjoy the architecture of the Getty in LA and the MAM in Milwaukee.

Some years ago I was part of a team assigned to review procedures for servicing certain types of climate control equipment in one of the world’s most prestigious art museums. That day I got an unexpected surprise: an up-close view of the fantastic designs that lie hidden in the bowels of large museums.

What you see above and below are parts of what I would call a beautiful art preservation machine. Giant pink and black mattress-sized pillows of activated charcoal hanging in huge geranium-red plenums. Hundreds of interconnected temperature and humidity sensors. Dozens of individual mini-humidifiers. Elaborate heating and cooling equipment. Miles of ductwork. Gauges. Valves. Logic to make them work in harmony so they are able to effectively serve one purpose: preserve great works of art.

Madrid, Spain, Architecture, Art
Madrid, Spain, Architecture, Art

An Art Preservation Orchestra

While we were busy documenting our procedures, all of these individual “instruments” - members of an elaborate orchestra - were playing this day’s variations of a piece written in the notation of industrial design, software design and architectural design, and doing so at a barely perceptible volume. All of these subsonic instruments were designed by and installed by expert craftsmen, as was the logic that conducted their performance. Air movement precisely regulated by actuators and dampers. Micro-puffs of humidity being released in an exact amount at a specific location. Cool air sent to one location where the temperature was being monitored for rate of change. Warm air sent elsewhere. Outside air harvested but desiccated before it was used to condition a space. The outdoor temperature, the number of visitors in the museum, and many other environmental factors could change, but the main theme played in endless variations by these instruments remained the same.

The art preservation machine: a beautiful orchestra playing an important symphony that no one can hear.

Madrid, Spain, Architecture, Art
Madrid, Spain, Architecture, Art