Go back to article: A sustainable storage solution for the Science Museum Group

The storage situation prior to the new building

The Science Museum Group is devoted to the history and contemporary practice of science, medicine, technology, industry and media. With an unrivalled collection of historical and cultural material, it is considered to be the most significant group of museums of science and innovation worldwide (Science Museum, 2015). The Group consists of: the Science Museum (London), the Museum of Science and Industry (Manchester), the National Railway Museum (York), the National Media Museum (Bradford) and the National Railway Museum (Shildon). Its collection includes fine art, archival, photographic and library materials as well as thousands of objects both large and small, ranging for example from airframes and locomotives to surgical scalpels and needles.

As in many sizable museums, more than ninety per cent of the group’s collection is in storage rather than on display, despite having five public locations and a dynamic loans programme. Not all objects were collected to be displayed but were acquired for reference and research. Some objects remain in storage as they may be too large, too fragile or too hazardous to go on public display but are retained because of their cultural, historic or technical value.

Figure 2a

Colour photograph of a large deflated hot air balloon canvas spread on the floor of a warehouse

Piccard’s hot air balloon envelope 1973-439 is too large ever to be displayed in the Museum

Figure 2b

Colour photograph of a large deflated hot air balloon canvas spread on the floor of a warehouse

As well as being enormous, the rope is made from asbestos fibre and the fabric of the envelope is beginning to deteriorate

Previously, each museum in the group had its own storage facilities both at the museum site and in external warehouses. But to reduce costs to the estate, by 2015 all northern external stores were closed and collections transported to the storage site at Wroughton, Wiltshire. Storage for the Science Museum Library & Archives had already been moved to Wroughton in 2007.

Figure 3

Aerial view of the object storage buildings and land at Wroughton

The Science Museum Group at Wroughton – aerial view showing object stores

The Wroughton store is near Swindon on a former RAF airfield. The 545-acre site, purchased from the Ministry of Defence in 1979 for use as a large objects store, has ten Second World War hangars (with eight being used for collections storage) and one custom-built store (store A1, opened in November 1994). Former maintenance buildings have been converted for use by the Library & Archives, Conservation and Estates operations. At almost 200 metres above sea level the site is exposed to winds from all directions and is susceptible to frequent weather changes. Horizontal rain is a particular feature, resulting in moisture penetration of ageing building fabric.
 
The hangars, built in the late 1930s to three different designs all approximately 38,000 cubic metres in capacity, are not heated. All are uninsulated concrete and steel structures.

Figure 4

A set of three colour photographs showing the outdoor storage warehouse units at Wroughton

A compilation of images showing (from top to bottom): L-type hangars (L2): parabolic steel framework with concrete skin; D-type hangar (D4): reinforced cast concrete with concrete bow-strung roof trusses; C-type hangar (C1): steel framework with concrete block infill and wooden roof (before refurbishment)

The hangers are in varying degrees of disrepair, some with very limited maintenance over the past 36 years, which has resulted in cracking concrete and rusting steel elements. Three have been renovated, one more fully than the others. However, with the site often being wet and windy, the environment in all the hangars is cold and damp, with temperatures rarely climbing above 13oC, and RH levels between 65–100 per cent, with internal fluctuations mirroring external conditions. Large industrial, agricultural and transport objects are stored either on the floor or on pallets in the hangars. Long-span pallet racking holds smaller or disassembled objects from the engineering technologies, medical, computing, media and science collections; these can be crated, covered with Tyvek or polythene, treated with surface coatings or unprotected, depending on object type and condition.

Graph 1a

Line graph comparing relative humidity and temperature over time

C1 data March–May 2015: despite C1 undergoing renovation, with only insulation in the walls and no RH buffering, the environment is only slightly better than that in one of the unaltered hangars

Graph 1b

Line graph comparing relative humidity and temperature over time

D3 data March–May 2015: despite C1 undergoing renovation, with only insulation in the walls and no RH buffering, the environment is only slightly better than that in one of the unaltered hangars

Figure 5

A set of four colour photographs showing a large green storage hangar, the interior of C1 hangar showing repainted interior and long-span racking, a large steel and concrete storage hangar and the interior of a storage hangar with stored heavy machinery aeroplanes and automobiles

A compilation of images showing (from top to bottom): External shot of C1 hangar, refurbished in 2011–12; Internal shot of C1 hangar showing repainted interior and long-span racking; External shot of D3 hangar; Internal shot of D3 hangar

Store A1 is an insulated steel framework structure with concrete foundation and felt roof. It was built in 1992–93 in response to a strategic review of the Science Museum storage requirements. Designed with environmental controls provided by a building management system, with original specifications for temperature at 14±2oC and relative humidity of 55±5 per cent, the building failed to deliver the tight environmental parameters due mainly to the failure of the dehumidification system. Continuous low level heating by oil-fuelled boilers currently maintains the RH between an acceptable 45–65 per cent in the storerooms, but the boilers are ageing and require almost daily maintenance. Storage is on mobile and static racking, leaving no floor space for over-size objects, and there is almost no capacity left for additional objects in the racking. Clearly a new, economically and environmentally sustainable storage solution needed to be found.

Figure 6

A set of three colour photographs showing an outdoor storage warehouse unit static storage racking and mobile storage racking

A compilation of images showing (from top to bottom): External view of the A1 Collections Storage Facility (1990s); Storeroom showing mobile racking; Storeroom showing static racking

Graph 2

Line graph comparing relative humidity and temperature over time

A1 environmental monitoring data March–May 2015. Low level heating keeps the RH at 50±5 per cent

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/150405/002