Feb 14 2011

Building Museums to Survive Once-In-200-Year Catastrophes

Published by at under design,history,sustainability

This news from Cairo is heartbreaking:

A full inventory of the Egyptian Museum has found that looters escaped with 18 items during the anti-government unrest, including two gilded wooden statues of famed boy king Tutankhamun, the antiquities chief said Sunday.

I can’t help but think of Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, where mathic monasteries preserve knowledge for millenia while skyscrapers rise and fall outside the walls. I think we need to take a long view on museum design and design them more like bunkers.

I’m not saying they should be remote and inaccessible to the public, but that they should be designed in a way that makes it possible to lock them down in the event of civil unrest or other catastrophe. What is the mean time between riots in any given city? Even if it is 100 years, if you’re storing 4000 year old artifacts you have to be able to survive these rare events or eventually there won’t be any artifacts left. That means no glass ceilings.

Even if your museum is situated somewhere that seems stable and safe, can I ask you what a safe location looks like on a 500 year time scale? Even if you’re the Royal Ontario Museum in civilized Toronto, how long until there’s a Stanley Cup riot that gets out of hand? OK, true, that’s probably more of a 1000 year timescale.

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