By Tim Whalen
Earlier this spring I participated in a lively and productive meeting in Germany organized by the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden that brought together European museum colleagues who are about to embark on major facility renovations. Each of their collections is housed in an iconic historic building in the center of their respective cities. Each of them was grappling with how to integrate new and sustainable technological solutions into their historic buildings while simultaneously caring for their collections in ways that met twenty-first-century conservation standards. Not so easy! Sometimes national legislation forces a solution that meets current energy use standards but that might not be compatible with collections. In other instances, these colleagues are attempting to reintroduce sustainable lighting design or climate solutions that were part of their building's original nineteenth-century design but but that have been lost through decades of technological "improvements."
Of paramount importance to these professionals was a commitment to finding the best solution for their buildings and their collections. The landscape presents few clear answers—particularly ones suited to preserving the cultural heritage—and conservation professionals are now presented with complex issues that affect not only their collections but their buildings as well.
This issue of Conservation Perspectives explores sustainability and cultural heritage preservation. In many respects, the work of heritage conservation aligns naturally with larger efforts to capture the environmental, economic, and social benefits that sustainable development offers. At the same time, the work of conservation may not integrate seamlessly into these larger efforts, as Erica Avrami suggests in this edition's feature article. She argues that some realignment of the field's approaches and goals is necessary to serve the drive toward sustainability, and that conservation must do a better job in demonstrating how it improves quality of life for communities.
May Cassar, in her article, charts actions that have been taken in the last few years, especially in Europe, to mitigate the effects of—and to adapt to—the now inevitable changes to the environment, from a heritage preservation point of view. Sarah Staniforth examines sustainability from the standpoint of collecting institutions, reviewing how these institutions can do their part by reducing energy consumption in a variety of ways. John Fidler, writing with George Wheeler and Dwayne Fuhlhage, shares some uncomfortable truths; while not all conservation treatment decisions are green in the current definition of the word, they are necessary for the survival of finite cultural resources.
Without question, the conservation field can provide the larger community with a model for sustainability, a point emphasized by Jean Carroon, Chris Wood, and Jerry Podany in this issue's dialogue. As Podany—senior conservator of antiquities for the J. Paul Getty Museum and current president of the International Institute for Conservation— observes, the conservation profession should be "providing a good example to everyone else about the larger meaning of the term conservation. The word conservation is, after all, in our title, and we should promote it more broadly."