Planning Resilient Museums



Planning for resiliency involves forecasting and assessing potential risks. Understanding the impact of those risks depends on your specific facility type.

To highlight the benefits of planning and designing for resiliency in museums, Ariane Laxo and Roxanne Nelson recently presented Resiliency Planning: Preparing to Preserve and Protect at the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) 2017 Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo. They joined Ann Trowbridge, Associate Director for Planning at the Smithsonian Institution, and Pat Hamilton, Director of Global Change Initiatives at the Science Museum of Minnesota, as they introduced resilient planning strategies, identified tools to prepare for risks, and suggested customized approaches that address different museums’ specific missions.

Below, Laxo and Nelson discuss takeaways from their earlier resilient museum presentation with the Science Museum of Minnesota and Seventhwave at the Association of Midwest Museums Annual Meeting and Conference, in partnership with the Minnesota Association of Museums, in 2016. They shared similar data at AAM, with added insight by Smithsonian.   

Resilient Approaches

Museum owners traditionally have been savvy about risk management, from planning state-of-the-art building systems that preserve collections to implementing security systems that protect visitors.

Yet many museum owners face evolving—and often unforeseen—challenges.

For instance, Scott Schuetter, PE, Senior Engineer at Seventhwave, notes that museums are designed for today's climate and are based on statistical temperature averages from the past 10 to 30 years. Museum design does not typically account for potential climate variations 10 to 30 years in the future. Small increases in average temperature and humidity can put tremendous pressure on building systems. Likewise, more frequent flooding or wind events can disrupt operations without proper mitigation planning.

Solutions are actually available with existing technology. New high-performance windows, better insulation, high-efficiency HVAC systems and room-occupancy controls all offer long-term resiliency solutions, Schuetter says.

"The technology barrier is accessible, but the economic barriers can be prohibitive," he says. "Most museums have an annual budget line item for equipment replacement. By rigorously researching the most efficient technology, you can offset higher upfront costs with long-term financial benefits. Climate change is a slow creep and it will impact your building's energy performance, so start thinking about the best upgrades now to avoid more costly problems later."

To help owners plan, we developed an interactive Resilience Assessment Tool that assesses risks in four categories: Climate, Natural Disaster, Infrastructure, and Security. The tool scores relative threats based on likelihood and severity, helping owners prioritize planning and often alerting them to risks under their radar.

Every potential scenario is impossible to anticipate. Yet the Resilience Assessment Tool offers opportunities to look holistically at operations and focus resilient planning on the most likely risks with the greatest potential impact. Doing the research and being prepared with the right tools can empower you to plan securely for the future.


Several other recent conferences, including the Symposium on Resilient Design for Buildings, Communities and Cities and Designing for Climate Change: Adaptation in the Built Environment at the National Adaptation Forum, also provided excellent resources for building owners to plan for resiliency.

Topics: Sustainability & Resiliency, Arts & Culture, Community