Museum showcases: specification and reality, costs and benefits

Siobhan Watts, David Crombie, Sonia Jones and Sally Ann Yates

This paper explores the practical application of the theory of museum showcases, including the contradictions within our specifications, how the management of the contract affects the final product, and the reality of the compromises made when you are confronted by the two main drivers of a project – programme and budget. Case studies of a range of gallery development projects at National Museums Liverpool illustrate some significant lessons learned from the procurement of showcases. The impact of case lighting and gallery ventilation systems on the measurement of air exchange rates is explored, and heat build up from lighting systems is shown to increase the air exchange rate by a factor of 4. The difficulty of ensuring that the recommended ventilation and off-gassing periods are upheld is discussed. Measurements of VOC concentrations within relatively air tight cases two years after installation showed that concentrations remain high. Communication of the associated risks and benefits to others on the project team within a formal project management structure is shown to be at least as beneficial as producing good technical specifications for the showcases.