Text: Prof. Dr. Heinrich Kramer, FPLDA
Photos: Luc Laurent Bernard

05. Aug 2010

A new era in museum design
The renaissance of daylight

Well known art collections and museums attract tourists and increase a city’s revenue. A number of prime examples spring to mind: the Louvre in Paris, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the British Museum in London, the Prado in Madrid, the Guggenheim in New York, the Uffizi in Florence, the National Museum in Cairo, to name but a few. For that reason, many towns and cities have invested in expanding their museums, or even building new ones.

The discovery that light can do irreparable damage to works of art has led to the development of a set of guidelines and regulations for the application of light in galleries and museums of art. Those laid down by the International Council of Museums, ICOM form the basis for all art insurers and art gallery owners or consignors. The ICOM regulations have had a substantial impact on the design of new museum buildings as well as on the refurbishment of existing art sanctuaries. This has meant some serious re-thinking has had to be done especially in the fields of lighting design and technology, and building services. It has become pretty obvious that such stringent regulations obviously require higher investments in technical equipment and may not add to the attractive quality of the museum from the visitor’s stand-point. This has led to a new attitude towards daylight and electric light. Up to the middle of the last century museums were essentially illuminated by daylight. This was achieved via skylights, glazed ceilings that allowed light to penetrate but influenced the design of the exhibition spaces to a large extent, or via windows in the vertical facades. Air-conditioning or other climate control was not usual. The spaces were large and the walls thick for enhanced storage capacity. There was no adequate electric lighting technology available. The International Council of Museums, which was founded in 1946, began to issue detailed lists of re-commendations for the protection of works of art. Those that essentially still apply with regard to the lighting and climate control are:
The works of art are classified into three categories according to their light sensitivity properties:

1. Materials which are not sensitive to light (such as metal, stone, glass and so on) – no illuminance restrictions
2. Oil paintings and tempora paintings: 100 to 150 lux
3. Water paintings, paper, photos and organic materials such as leather, textiles, etc.: 50 lux.

The full version of the article can be found in PLD No. 72

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