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Design and Development of the New Storage Facility

An “ideal storage” facility for the collection:

In planning for the new storage area, the Costume and Textiles conservator and curators had numerous discussions and made visits to over fifteen collections storage facilities and museums throughout the United States and Europe. A shared consensus for an “ideal storage space” included:
  • A storage area dedicated only to storage
  • Storage units that would allow curators to view the collection easily, yet would close fully to protect the objects
  • Controlled access (security) to the storage area
  • Safe and easy object retrieval (without actually handling the object)
  • The ability to view objects without removing them from their housing whenever possible
  • Environmentally stable conditions (45% relative humidity, 70°F ± 2°)
  • A gaseous fire suppression system, backed up by a wet pipe supression system
  • A system for objects to be grouped by:
    • Classification (costume/textile)
    • Country of origin (western/non-western)
    • Type (printed fabric, hat, sampler, etc.)

With this list in place, we were able to move to the next phase of the planning process, the physical space.

Space Planning
From the data gathered during the collection survey process, which was entered into the Museum’s new collections management system database (TMS), a report could be generated and downloaded to an Excel spreadsheet. With this data we could calculate the overall volume and types of storage required for the entire collection. We added a percentage for "wastage" (when something almost but not quite fills up a tray or drawer) and 5–15% for growth. The estimated percentage for growth was determined by the curators and was based on the anticipated acquisition of new objects for specific areas of the collection. It was determined that we needed approximately 2–3 times more space than our existing storage provided.

We presented this information, together with our ideals for storage, to the project’s architectural firm Gluckman Mayner. The architects evaluated our needs as well as those of the other departments that would be moving to the Perelman Building for the final interior space design.

The new Costume and Textiles storage area is a 38' x 160' space with 18' ceilings, and is divided into two separate rooms for fire safety purposes. With just over 6,000 square feet, the storage space is optimized by the use of 12' high compacting storage units and provides approximately 2 1/2 times the previous storage volume.

Furniture Design
Storage furniture selection was based on the design of the physical space, security needs, and requirement of local fire regulations.

Storage Furniture Considerations:
  • Powder coated steel
  • Compacting (can provide 30–50% more space)
  • Cost
  • Standardization
  • Doors
  • Fire regulations

We worked closely with the Borroughs Corporation to design a storage system specific to the needs of the Costume and Textiles collection. The sizes of the units were based on information gained during the survey and the space allocated by the architects. A standard storage cabinet of 60"-wide by 30"-deep, with the depth dictated by the width of hanging costume (which averages just less than 30"), would meet our needs for most of the collection. When configured for the space, there would be rows of 5 cabinets, each 63"-wide, 30"-deep and 12'-high. For wider costumes, cabinets 40"-deep were designed. Very large objects that are stored flat and long rolled textiles, such as quilts, were accommodated on "double-wide, double-deep units" (103"-wide, 60"-deep and 12'-high).

Testing the water shield system at the Borroughs warehouse in Kalamazoo, MI. Sheets of paper were taped to inside of the cabinet. After testing they were still dry, indicating that the system worked
Due to the quantity of combustible materials that would be stored in the facility, the fire department required that a space be left between each unit at night so the sprinkler system would be more effective. However, this would have left the collection susceptible to irreparable damage should the sprinkler system discharge accidentally. One solution, placing doors on the cabinets, proved to be cost prohibitive. Our final solution was an innovative design (PDF) developed by Andrew Lins, The Neubauer Family Chair of Conservation, and Senior Conservator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture, the Burroughs Corporation and O'Brien Business Systems. Each cabinet has a solid back and the cabinets are placed back to back on the carriages with a 1" gap between them. The open fronts meet with a gasket and a specially designed roof flange. When the cabinets are cranked closed it creates smaller units with less fire load. In the event of a sprinkler discharge, the water would flow down cooling the cases and containing the fire within a single unit.

The final design of the storage space incorporated twenty-seven 61"-wide carriages, three 30"-wide carriages and one stationary 30"-wide row of cabinets for objects too fragile to withstand even the gentle movement of compacting storage. For over-sized and unique-sized objects, there are 9 double-deep, double-wide units on three carriages; three rows of 40"-wide cabinets, which are back-to-back with rows of 20" shelving used for hat storage and 48 rows of the standard 60” x 30” units.

Compacting units on carriages
63” wide x 30” deep units hold hanging costumes, trays and drawers with rolled textiles
Three rows of 20" deep shelving were designed to store the 1,200 hats in the collection
Three carriages have double-wide, double-deep units. These hold trays 103” x 60” to store large or fragile objects that cannot be folded and drawers to hold rolled textiles and quilts up to 103" long

Space along one wall was designated for boxed storage with 63” x 20" shelving, with an area designated for storage of rolled textiles longer than 103".

Many of the storage components were also standardized to reduce cost. The majority of the objects are stored hanging or on 30” x 63" trays. The trays have Coroplast™ bottoms to reduce weight. Bottomless drawers are used for rolled textiles and shelving is designated for boxed storage and hats.