Many historic buildings are made with stone structures. In addition to the various benefits that this type of material, which is diversified by composition, aggregation and geometry according to historical periods and geographical areas, it must be remembered that exposure to fire constitutes in most cases an important vulnerability. Even recently, several cases of fire have highlighted the importance of designing from fire, in buildings belonging to the cultural heritage, building elements to which adequate attention is not always paid.
The case of the fire that seriously damaged the chapel that housed the Holy Shroud in Turin, on April 11, 1997, can be considered iconic in this regard. For its restoration it was necessary to open the quarry near the place from which at the time the stone material with which the supporting structures had been made had been extracted (see reference, page 25) . Among other things, the individual blocks had been designed and installed with techniques of which the memory had been lost and which forced the restorers to a specific study.
Fire prevention is a discipline that relies in most cases on the use of building elements or standardized solutions. The verification of safety with respect to the risk of fire, therefore, normally starts from the control of parameters such as the width of the escape routes, the characteristics of fire resistance of the structures and the characteristics of the ignition behavior of the covering and furniture materials. If a project lacks one or more of these aspects, it is modified by adding or changing elements. But what to do when the building has already been built and, above all, it cannot be modified because its construction elements, its visual impact and its history do not allow it to be modified without society accepting these changes?
Historic buildings are by their nature subject to the degradation that time and atmospheric agents entail. To limit the damage that degradation causes to heritage artefacts, the first requirement is the periodic or, better, continuous control of their state of conservation. The technologies available for this purpose are constantly evolving.
It is worldwide known that the restoration of Notre Dame, severely damaged by a massive fire on 15 April 2019 will be supported by the wealth of data acquired few years before, in order to release the Ubisoft’s ‘Assassin’s Creed: Unity. This fortuitous case highlights an aspect that could become critical in the conservation of works of art, starting with buildings and monuments. The meticulous scanning, with a precision of not less than 5 mm, has made evident to the public an aspect already known to the experts: the reconstruction or restoration of assets damaged by time, war events and malicious or negligent actions they can be potentially helped if the goods themselves have been documented with laser scanning or photogrammetry techniques. The same consideration can be applied to the emergency assessments on the damage and on the level of risk of collapse that, for example after an earthquake, the first responders must perform to allow the rescue of people, the recovery of assets and the safety of non-collapsed structures.
Cultural heritage is, by its nature, exposed to various and serious risks. The development of technologies and procedures that make it possible to improve the first aid and damage limitation activities must be constantly followed to update the techniques to the evolution of risks and expectations of the community. In this context, international cooperation is gaining increasing importance. The ability to improve operational efficiency and effectiveness, in fact, largely benefits from the comparison between different experiences. Furthermore, in cases where catastrophic events hit entire regions, the contribution of teams from countries other than the one affected by the emergency can prove essential for saving cultural heritage.
ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites), is a global non-governmental organization associated with UNESCO dedicated to the conservation of the world’s monuments and sites. One of its most active areas of interest is, then, the conservation and restoration of sites and monuments. The list of documents concerning such commitment has been published in 1998:
In three weeks, between January and February 2019, the EU financed STORM (Safeguarding Cultural Heritage through Technical and Organisational Resources Management) project has organised the STORM Academy 2019. The lessons will be held in Rome – National Fire Academy (I.S.A.) and in Viterbo (Tuscia University) by teachers selected among of the partners of the project.
The European Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction (EFDRR) forms the regional platform structure of Europe of the UNISDR, the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. The 2018 meeting, of the Forum has been held in Rome on November 21-23.
CURE (Culture in City Reconstruction and Recovery) is a position paper published in 2018 by UNESCO and the World Bank Group that offers, according the foreword (Mr Enrico Ottone and Mr Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez), “a framework on Culture in City Reconstruction and Recovery and operational guidance for policymakers and practitioners for the planning, financing, and implementation phases of post-crisis interventions for city reconstruction and recovery“. Continue reading “CURE: an UNESCO – World Bank Group Position Paper on Cultural Heritage and Reconstruction”
Protecting Cultural Heritage is mainly aimed at avoiding that any kind of hazard could pose an excessive risk to the objects that must be preserved. There are conditions, nonetheless, that oblige to evacuate the artefacts, since the preventive measures cannot be anymore effective. So, in specific situations, museums and their staff may go through challenging times due both to natural disasters and climate change.
In the case of museums, when they are threatened for their role in protecting and valorizing precious witnesses of the past and human creativity, their intrinsic value for intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding must be protected and supported.
On December 5th, 2017, a large bush fire in California has forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people and destroyed hundreds of homes and other buildings. According the media no injuries or structural damage have been reported, although the museum has been threatened and closed to the public on Wednesday 5th.
Risks to cultural heritage vary from catastrophic events (such as earthquakes, floods, etc) to gradual processes (such as chemical, physical, or biological degradation). The result is loss of value to the heritage. Sometimes, the risk does not involve any type of material damage to the heritage asset, but rather the loss of information about it, or the inability to access heritage items. So, heritage managers need to understand these risks well so as to make good decisions about protection of the heritage (for future generations) while also providing access for the current generation. ICCROM (Intergovernamental Organisation devoted to protect Cultural Heritage) and the Canadian Conservation Institute have published the “The ABC Method: a risk management approach to the preservation of cultural heritage”.
The project STORM (Safeguarding Cultural Heritage through Technical and Organisational Resources Management) has been funded by the Horizon 2020 EU Program and aims at defining a platform that managers of cultural heritage sites can use in improving preparedness, managing emergencies and planning restoration of damaged buildings.
The project specifically considers risks that the cultural sites have to face from either long-term degradation (whose action is far slower than the typical applications of feedback controls), or extreme traumatic events (whose action is much faster). Their common nature is the climate change. So, the specific scope of the project is creating a technological platform that allows a systematic comparison between a real (measured) state and a desired theoretical state.
The 909 Standard “Protection of Cultural Resource Properties — Museums, Libraries, and Places of Worship” – 2017 Edition has been published by National Fire Protection Association.
The standard describes principles and practices of protection for cultural resource properties (museums, libraries, and places of worship etc.), their contents, and collections, against conditions or physical situations with the potential to cause damage or loss. The updates for the 2017 edition include:
expanded provisions for outdoor collections and archaeological sites and their protection against wildfire;
further clarification of sprinkler system corrosion protection criteria;
mandated integrated system testing per NFPA 4, Standard for Integrated Fire Protection and Life Safety System Testing;
the addition of numerous events to Annex B, Fire Experience in Cultural Properties.
According to the 909 code, libraries, museums, and places of worship housed in historic structures have also to comply with the requirements of NFPA 914 (Code for Fire Protection of Historic Structures).
The standard includes provisions for fire prevention, emergency operations, fire safety management, security, emergency preparedness and inspection, testing, and maintenance of protection systems.
As in the previous editions, criteria are provided for new construction, addition, alteration, renovation, and modification projects, along with specific rules addressing places of worship and museums, libraries, and their collections.
STORM (Safeguarding Cultural Heritage through Technical and Organisational Resources Management) is a EU research and development project funded in the early 2016 by the EU under the Horizon 2020 program (Call: DRS-11-2015: Disaster Resilience & Climate Change, Topic 3: Mitigating the impacts of climate change and natural hazards on Cultural Heritage sites, structures and artefacts).
On April 29th, 2015, a fire has destroyed the 18th century Palladian masterpiece of Clandon Park. The fire started in the house’s basement, and quickly spread to the roof. The Surrey Fire and Rescue Service has operated with a total of 16 fire engines and more than 80 personnel.
The timeline of the firefighters’ operations is well described in the Getsurrey page, which highlights some problems in water supply.
Although some paintings and furniture were rescued by staff, many tapestries and some items of porcelain were heavily damaged.
Managed by the National Trust since 1956, Clandon Park has been built in the 1720s and, before the fire, contained a large collection of 18th-century furniture, porcelain and textiles.
During the international conference on safety issues of rescue operations in underground structures, held in Rome (Italy) on march 3rd, 2011, the argument of visitors’s safety of secret wartime tunnels in Dover has been discussed.
The presentation, made by Mr Steve Emery (English Heritage) has focused the attention on how fire safety engineering can be used to improve safety in historical buildings. In particular, the premise are underground. The first tunnels under Dover Castle were constructed in the Middle Ages to provide a protected line of communication for the soldiers. During the Napoleonic Wars, this system of tunnels was expanded to fortify the Castle. Seven tunnels were dug as barracks for the soldiers and officers. These were capable of accommodating up to 2,000 troops.
In May 1940 the tunnels became the nerve centre for ‘Operation Dynamo’ – the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and French troops from Dunkirk’s beaches. In the Cold War the tunnels were further expanded to form a Regional Centre of Government in the event of nuclear war.
The presentation, taken from the Conference proceedings, shows how fire simulations have guided in developing a correct safety management for visitors:
On 9 February 2009 the Beijing Television Cultural Center has been damaged by a massive blaze. The building, in the centre of Beijing, was adjacent to the CCTV Headquarters. At 8:27 p.m. the entire building caught fire on the last day of the festivities marking the Chinese new year and was put out six hours later. A nearby unauthorised fireworks display caused the fire.
The cause of the fire has been linked to a massive Chinese New Year fireworks display in the compound, authorized by CCTV itself, without the permission or participation from Beijing police, the Beijing Fire Department, Beijing City government, or any other governmental department.
CCTV had ignored three consecutive police interventions and warnings and had four television cameras trained on the multi-million yuan fireworks, which consisted of nearly 700 high explosive pyrotechnic devices.
Six hundred firefighters arrived on the scene to fight the blaze, which lasted five hours and caused one death and seven injuries.
The fire began on the building’s roof and spread to the lower floors, fed by high winds. Toxic fumes and a lack of working sprinklers were said to have hampered efforts to extinguish the fire.
The complex’s main building, the doughnut-shaped structure, was not damaged. The building, which was originally scheduled to open in 2009, did not seen any progress towards opening or being visibly repaired by the end of that year.