A Work of Art

State-of-the-art fire protection installed at Nasher Museum, Circus Museum

Located on the campus of Duke University, the Nasher Museum of Art displays a growing collection of modern and contemporary art. With an exhibition space of more 65,000 square feet it is one of the most important university are museums in the country.

The late Raymond Nasher contributed funds for construction, and his other namesake museum, the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, routinely lends the Nasher Museum monumental sculptures, including works by Calder, Caro and Dubuffet. Detection and control capabilities sensitive enough to detect a fire before it damages priceless works of art with soot and smoke contamination is paramount, even if they are not harmed by the fire’s flames.

The critical mission was to protect a Rafael Viñoly-designed building, comprised of three extensive gallery spaces, classrooms and other rooms that lead to an outdoor seating area that overlooks the museum’s sculpture gardens.

Another opportunity availed itself when the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art’s Tibbals Learning Center needed similar protection. The center, a 30,600-square-foot space, showcases the work of Howard Tibbals, who meticulously detailed a 1/16th lifesize model of the circus’ big tents and all that is found inside.

Even though it’s a miniature model, it truly is a national treasure, and discreet fire protection was needed to deliver the highest quality performance without stealing the show.

Rapid Response
Fenwal Protection Systems professionals were called to design and install an integrated fire protection system. At the top of their list, the FenwalNET™ 2000 control unit was deployed, along with the AnaLASER® II high-sensitivity smoke detection system. The combination offered fast, effective fire detection and control necessary to protect the high-dollar assets.

The fenwalNET 2000 offers rapid response to initiating signals, as well as a poll-and-respond communiqué that initiates only after the control unit makes the alarm decision. This allows program interface to system menus, the upload and download of system configuration data and system testing from a laptop.

The Nasher Museum’s great hall, with 40-foot-high beams supporting a glass-and-steel roof, posed a challenging environment for the AnaLASER system.

“The AnaLASER system is extremely sensitive, and that’s important for early detection,” said Kenneth E. Dodson, facilities manager at the Nasher Museum. “We worry about fire, of course, but also air quality in general. The system helps us protect artwork from dust and airborne contaminants.”

The ceiling areas within the museum, such as gallery spaces, were ideal for the AnaLASER II because the challenges of smoke stratification and detector maintenance are not met by conventional smoke detectors. The system can be mounted on the floor for ease of maintenance. The thought process behind the installation was to detect fire in its incipient state, delivering the earliest warning to an impending fire.

Hidden Protection
Upon review of a hazard analysis, the staff at the Tibbals Learning Center specified the Fenwal FM-200® system because it was able to discharge at a lower mass flow rate. This would minimize the increase of pressure within the glass enclosures and reduce the risk of damaging displays just in case there was a discharge event.

“The Ringling Museum takes pride in protecting their collections,” said Mitchell Ladewski, the museum’s safety and security coordinator. “Protecting the unique objects, including the miniature circus, in the Tibbals Learning Center required thoughtful and careful planning to select the most up-to-date, cost-efficient and effective security systems that did not interfere with the visitor’s experience.”

As with any valuable collection, these are treasures that need intricate protection. Borrell Fire Systems design manager Don Jordan said the museum made the right choice with the FM200 fire suppression system because it is not only environmentally friendly, but has excellent fire extinguishing capabilities. The design is based on hidden containers placed around the exhibit with nozzles and air-sampling detectors painted to match the clouds, providing discreet protection, including a low turbulent discharge to keep the pristine model intact.

“The miniature circus in the Tibbals Learning Center is one of the many treasures at the Ringling estate,” said Deborah Walk, Tibbals curator of the Circus Museum and of historical documents. “We take great pride in protecting our collections so visitors will be able to enjoy them for generations to come.”

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