Environment control

Paintings being evacuated from the National Gallery during the Second World War

Defining optimum storage and display environments for the long term preservation of cultural material is an area of ongoing debate and research. 

During the Second World War the London National Gallery stored their collection in a mine in North Wales. Upon its return seven years' later the collection was found to have suffered no deterioration.

The mine conditions were assessed as having 20 degrees celsius and 50% relative humidity, a standard which has become the benchmark for conservation environments.

Since then, building sustainability and collection climate control systems have become more sophisticated, the consumption and cost of energy increases, and the need to investigate easing of the parametres and demands for variations from the norm has become of critical concern for the international conservation industry.

In 2009 AICCM established the Environmental Controls Taskforce to look at international movements in changing environmental guidelines for cultural collections in Australia.

In March, 2014 AICCM announced that an interim position on environmental conditions for collections had been reached. A summary of the findings are as follows:

  • Temperature: between 15–25°C with allowable fluctuations of +/-4°C per 24 hr.
  • Relative Humidity: between 45-55% with an allowable fluctuation of +/- 5% per 24 hr.
  • Where storage and display environments experience seasonal drift, RH change to be managed gradually across a wider range limited to 40% – 60%.

Read more about the Taskforce

Download the report

Guidelines for Environmental Control of Cultural Institutions (2002)

These guidelines were developed by the Heritage Collections Council to assist in developing appropriate environmental strategies to optimise the preservation of cultural objects while in storage and on display.

The following Guidelines emphasise the analysis of local climate conditions and appropriate building strategies, which might minimise the reliance on full airconditioning. Even where air-conditioning might be employed, minimising external loads, and appropriate operation of the building in response to the local climate, may have significant benefits in reducing energy costs, and the incidence of catastrophic failure of the environmental control systems.

The Ministry for the Arts, Attorney-General’s Department is the custodian and copyright holder of the above resources. Enquiries about this publication can be directed to: collectionsdevelopment@arts.gov.au