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Tearin’ It Up: The Construction of a New Conservation Lab

Construction is underway on the IMA’s new conservation science facility. This re-purposed area of the museum was demolished to the studs in a matter of hours once Hagerman construction group’s crew arrived on site last week. It was truly amazing to see how quickly this whole corner of the Museum could be disassembled, carted away, recycled, and laid bare.

It was also interesting what a psychological effect the demolition had. Although I anticipated the space looking much larger once it was opened up, it surprisingly felt much less spacious. Still, the whole facility is a very generous 2000 square feet of useable laboratory, office, and conference room space.


As a colleague noted, “Anyone can disassemble the Space Shuttle, putting it back together is another thing!” Now begins the much slower and deliberate steps of reassembling the space into a state-of-the-art research and analysis facility. Planning for the construction only took about 3 months from the time of my arrival in Indianapolis this January, but much thought went into each step of the reconstruction.

There were a myriad of technical issues that had to be sorted out to supply the instrumental stations with the necessary compressed gases, electrical, water, vacuum, and ventilation systems. In addition, several structural changes were made to the space to accommodate the greening of the museum. For instance, three new sub-zero, heavily insulated windows will replace the previous panes in order to preserve and regulate the interior climate of the lab while also eliminating UV radiation. These replacements are necessary because the lab will host museum artworks undergoing in situ nondestructive analysis, and so the spaces must meet the same climate, lighting, and security guidelines as the conservation studios and museum galleries.

In addition, the science wing extends out from the museum’s envelope, and the 3 exterior walls are all ‘furred out’ approximately 4 inches with a new metal stud and sheetrock wall. This improves on the original construction, which comprised a thin Styrofoam insulation layer directly on top of the exterior concrete wall, providing a less than ample thermal barrier. The new wall cavity will allow for additional insulation and a stronger framing for anchoring cabinetry, hanging artwork, running interior conduit, and installing instrumentation.

With all the work ongoing for the physical lab space, behind the scenes the conservation department is assembling the reference materials used as comparative samples for artists’ materials studies (e.g. the pigment collection below), as well as determining the research and technical study priorities for the museum.

We are on track to open the lab in early Fall with a full complement of scientific instrumentation and a large list of research projects!

Filed under: Conservation, Current Events

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