The art of looking forward: museums & green design

Environmental concerns in the museum world often have to do with the temperature, relative humidity and vibration abatement in galleries where precious works of art are stored or shown; little, until recently, has been said of the environmental sustainability of such buildings. In the spate of museum expansions over the past few years, only a handful have sought Leadership in Energy Environmental Design [LEED] certification: Los Angeles' Getty Center, Michigan's Grand Rapids Museum of Art, and the Provincetown Art Association and Museum in Massachusetts.

Still, one big-name museum leads the pack. Writes The Art Newspaper:
The Art Institute of Chicago is perhaps one of the most ­environmentally sound museums in the country. The institute is seeking a silver certification for its $285m expansion by Renzo Piano, which is now under construction and integrates a range of green features including a photocell lighting system that dims as ambient light gets brighter and a double-window fa├žade that ­provides natural ventilation and light. Nearly ten years ago, the museum had the foresight to install solar panels on its roof and it recently hired a consulting firm to assess if it can save energy by overhauling its heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems.

Some architects such as Renzo Piano are known for using natural lighting and energy-efficient systems having been trained in continental Europe where fuel costs are significantly higher and where energy-related building codes are much stricter than in the US. Since museums require 24-hour humidity and temperature controls, an initial investment in energy-efficient systems could significantly reduce operational costs in the long-term.
The paper also highlights geo-thermal heating and cooling systems at the Center for Architecture in New York and the expanded MoMA, an institution that received a $400,000 state grant to install a chilled-water cooling plant. But why isn't green design more prevalent in the presumably progressive art world?

"Because artworks must now be immortal, we need an ever increasing number of buildings equipped with every latest technical gizmo to house them," writes Jonathan Glancey at the Guardian blogs. He says that, short of a change in attitude about permanently pristine art, there needs to be a shift of focus to outdoor sculpture parks. In a piece in which he coins a term that smacks of politics rather than stewardship--"ecological correctness"--he concludes:
as we garner ever more artworks and artefacts into museums and galleries, and no matter how thoughtfully these are designed, the net energy consumption of the art world will surely only increase.
If he's right, that begs a future question: how will museums--especially those that show contemporary art and architecture--reconcile the forward-thinking and often progressive messages of the art they show with construction that mires them in an unsustainable past?

Image: Installation of part of the 216-foot sunshade that "floats like an umbrella" over second-story galleries in the Renzo Piano-designed Art Institute of Chicago expansion, set to open in 2009.

Via Sustainablog.

Also: Another way to go green, perhaps, is to go online: The Green Museum.

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