How to protect documentary heritage with a state-of-the-art preservation facility
January 12, 2021
January 12, 2021
A modern preservation facility requires unique engineering. Lessons learned while working on a project that safeguards documentary heritage.
As an engineer, I love discovering new challenges and unique opportunities in my work. Recently, I’ve been absorbed with a project that feels patriotic and historically important: How can our team’s work help to preserve the documentary heritage of Canada?
I’m referring to the Library and Archives Canada (LAC)’s new preservation facility in Gatineau, Quebec, which is expected to be completed in 2022. My team has provided professional services to PCL Construction—as part of a public-private-partnership team named Plenary Properties Gatineau, and in collaboration with B+H Architects—on this state-of-the-art project.
This facility, located adjacent to LAC’s existing Preservation Centre, will store six vaults containing archival records from Canada. This ultra-modern facility will be the first net zero carbon building dedicated to the preservation of archives in the Americas, and it will also be the first Government of Canada building to meet the requirements of the Greening Government Strategy.
I’m also excited that this building will be the world’s largest preservation facility equipped with the advanced technology of an automated storage and retrieval system for archival materials.
There’s a lot of distinct engineering that goes into a preservation facility like this one—that reflects LAC’s objective of protecting materials for 500 years—and I’m sure that governments around the world will consider creating similar memory institutions to safeguard their archival records. This building will set a global standard in many ways. If you’re curious about some of the behind-the-scenes work, here are some of the important elements that go into a project like this.
All your design work should keep this important objective in mind: the protection of the documentary heritage collection. Usually, my team’s engineering work focuses on the protection of people. But in this case, the building’s main “occupants” will be paperwork, films, and other archival materials. It’s vital to ensure your facility is safe for people and the heritage collection. When it comes to protecting the collection, here are some key points that come to mind:
This building will set a global standard in many ways.
As I mentioned above, LAC’s new preservation facility will use an automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) for archival materials. This building will be the world’s largest preservation facility to utilize an ASRS, and it’s important to be aware this system if you’re considering a project like this one.
This 90-foot-tall, high-density storage system, created by intralogistics company Dematic, presents several benefits. They include a decreased risk of material damage, enhanced tracking, and reduced energy consumption. Retailers have started using these systems for their storage facilities. For a preservation facility, adding an ASRS reduces the amount of time that people interact with the collection, which lessens the chance that someone could damage heritage materials by dropping a box, for example.
On this project, the ASRS will incorporate 6 robots, all customized with vertical conveyance. The robots take collection materials from visiting trucks and store the materials up to 90 feet in the air.
This project’s uniqueness means that we’ve often had to establish new technical limits for our design. We’ve gone above and beyond standards—like ensuring we had proper fire protection for such great heights or finding new areas for piping to keep water out of certain rooms—because existing standards don’t reach the limits we need.
If you’re contemplating a large facility like this to preserve important heritage materials, there are critical decisions to make. I’m proud to work on a project that protects my country’s documented heritage, and I’m looking forward to seeing it in operation.