Canadian Consulting Engineer

Art Gallery of Alberta -Mechanical Systems

August 1, 2010
By Bob Campbell, P. Eng., Stantec

Mechanical systems for the Art Gallery of Alberta have been designed to accommodate the most stringent environmental conditions that are on a level of those required by galleries worldwide.

Mechanical systems for the Art Gallery of Alberta have been designed to accommodate the most stringent environmental conditions that are on a level of those required by galleries worldwide.

Alan Scott, P. Eng. was chairman of the Art Gallery of Alberta from 2001 to 2010, and led the gallery’s redevelopment: “Our objective was to develop a facility to support art exhibitions which have been assembled from major art centres throughout the world. In this regard, art lending institutions require the strictest control of air quality, temperature, and humidity, with lighting that reflects the true presentation.”

Scott continues: “Our on-line provision to art lending institutions allows [them] access to current environmental conditions in the galleries for monitoring while their art pieces are in our possession. The mechanical and electrical systems supporting the gallery environment is a critical component to the AGA’s ability to display art from around the world.”

A “Basis of Design” document developed by IBE Consulting Engineers of Los Angeles formed the design criteria for the mechanical and electrical systems. Stantec implemented the design criteria put forward by IBE.

Each gallery space has its own temperature and humidity control. Of critical importance is the need to continuously maintain relative humidity (RH) at 50% (+/-5%) in all the spaces that handle art pieces. The gallery also has continuously to maintain these spaces at a temperature of 22 (+/-0.5)C during summer months, and 20 (+/-0.5)C during winter months.

In Edmonton outside temperatures and humidity range from –44C and zero moisture content during winter conditions, to +35C during summer. There can be relative humidity as high as 100% during rainy periods. The mechanical systems must be able to manage these weather extremes and maintain the gallery environment within the specified limits.

In addition to temperature and humidity control, it is necessary to filter all the air supplied to the galleries, using carbon filters to remove airborne gases and media filters to remove small airborne particulate to Merv 16 (equivalent to HEPA filtration for clean rooms). The galleries are maintained at a positive pressure with respect to adjacent spaces to ensure surrounding air cannot enter the gallery before being filtered and tempered.

Air distribution to the galleries has been designed to be quiet, with noise levels not exceeding NC 30, equivalent to a quiet meeting room.

The water used to make up steam for injection when humidification is required is filtered, softened, and passed through a reverse osmosis unit before being delivered to electric steam generators.

To prevent any potential water damage, the mechanical design avoids having plumbing and water distribution pip- ing above the galleries. Where necessary, drip pans are used below all the piping work to protect the integrity of the ceiling.

Several energy conserving measures have been incorporated into the central plant design. High efficiency condensing boilers are used to generate building heat and to temper air supplies during the winter months. Multi-stage high efficiency chillers are used to generate chilled water for cooling during summer months.

“Free Cooling” is generated in closed loop cooling towers during periods of low cooling demand when the chillers can be turned off. The ventilation systems use variable frequency drives to regulate fan speeds to meet the demands of the ventilation system.

An automatic digital control system provides the operator interface to monitor all the space temperature and humidity conditions, control the central plant systems and monitor alarms.


Owner: Art Gallery of Alberta. Architect: Randall Stout. Structural engineers: DeSimone; BP-TEC DNW Engineering (associate). Mechanical-electrical engineers: IBE, Stantec. Lighting: Lam Partners. Other key players: Read Jones Christoffersen (curtainwall), RWDI (snow, wind, ice), GHL (code), Newcomb & Boyd (acoustics), Ledcor (construction manager), Architecture Arndt Tkalcic Bengert (project manager). Supplier: Viessmann (condensing boilers).


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