Preserving Culture Through Architecture

Dine College Archive Center
Dine College Archive Center

The preservation of important cultural artifacts, whether on display in a museum or carefully stored away in an archive or repository, begins with the special design considerations of an architect. Even the slightest error in building performance can compromise collections; leading to damage that is often irreversible.

Collections storage facilities require highly-regulated environments designed with an expert understanding of the factors influencing the preservation of cultural artifacts. From our past experience working with tribal clients to develop facilities for the storage of cultural items, we have identified four critical factors for design:

1. Lighting

2. Climate Control

3. Air Quality

4. Security

IAIA Welcome Center
Artwork displayed at the Institute of American Indian Arts campus.

1. Lighting

Proper lighting can have a significant impact on the condition of artifacts. Prolonged exposure to lighting can cause cumulative and irreversible damage; textiles may weaken or fade, paint and dye colors may change, and paper or similar thin materials may bleach or darken, or weaken and crack. Ideally, stored artifacts should be kept in the dark as often as possible. When removed from storage for study, cleaning, or prep for display, items should be viewed in filtered light. UV light, from both fluorescent lamps and natural daylight, are the most harmful.

Dine College Archive Center
The Dine' College Archive Center stores, processes and archives Dine' cultural and historic artifacts and documents.

2. Climate Control

Creating an ideal climate for artifact storage is immensely complex. Fluctuating temperatures and humidity levels cause organic materials to warp, break, or grow mold; thus, a reliable HVAC system is critical to preservation. Staging of storage within a regulated environment is also important. Items stored along exterior walls are more susceptible to changes in humidity and temperature.

Dine College Archive Center
Prepared artifacts at the Dine' College Archive Center in Tsaile, Arizona.

3. Air Quality

Similar to climate control, air quality must be strictly regulated in archival facilities. Both particulate and gaseous air pollutants can cause significant damage to stored artifacts. Again, a reliable HVAC system, as well as proper staging of storage rooms, cleaning supplies, and offices mitigates the possibility of collections contamination. We carefully select construction materials, such as paints, sealants and adhesives to minimize harsh chemical effects within artifact storage space.

Dine College Archive Center
Work space at the Dine' College Archive Center.

4. Security

Careful planning for access and security minimizes threats of contamination, loss, theft, and vandalism. Access points to artifact storage and displayed collections can be restricted and compartmentalized. Fire suppression is also an important component for museum and archival collections.

IAIA Welcome Center
Gallery and display space incorporated into the design of the IAIA Lloyd Kiva New Welcome Center.

Sustainability for Highly Regulated Environments: The Institute of American Indian Arts

Dyron Murphy Architects was tasked with designing storage space for important artifacts for the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The IAIA Science & Technology building required highly regulated environments to protect these archived works of art, which would have greatly increased the resource consumption of the building. The following design features were implemented to counteract the increased energy consumption and associated costs required for maintaining these environments:

– Increased daylighting throughout non-storage or work room areas for reduced energy consumption

– Double layers of 2” insulation for increased temperature control

– Low-flow fixtures provide 39% water use reduction

– 35% of annual electric consumption is provided by green power

  • /