Guideline 14.1

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The following Standards and Guidelines are a work in progress intended to spur discussion between exhibit personnel, conservators and other museum professionals. Please check back in the future as information is added to expand on the Guidelines without currently active links.
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Guideline14.1: The general layout of the exhibit space is object-safe

What are the specific features of an object-safe floor plan?

The floor plan—the configuration of cases, exhibit platforms, panels and other furnishings—can either promote or work against object safety. Tall cases tightly packed into a gallery, for example, will cause visitors to bump cluttered furnishings, create security blind spots, and hamper maintenance. Pollutants can also accumulate in pockets of still air.

Below is a list of design approaches that promote object preservation, along with the hazards they will help to alleviate:

Allow clear pathways through the exhibit in order to:

  • Ensure clear lines of sight to deter theft or tampering.
  • Minimize the risk of visitors bumping into cases or shelves;
  • Ensure that pathways allow safe and unrestricted movement of wheelchairs. (The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards call for a minimum of 36 inches for any walkway and a 60-inch diameter for turns. Cases or other display components that protrude from a wall should allow a 27-inch clearance from the floor.)


Ensure all areas are easily accessible for routine maintenance such as:

  • Daily inspections of all exhibits (for object inspection and to identify preservation needs)
  • Routine inspections for preventative maintenance of the exhibit, including ceiling lighting, ductwork and filter changes, and to forestall such problems as water leaks and HVAC system failures.
  • Removing object from display when needed.
  • Inspecting behind and underneath display areas for pests.


Provide space for exhibit-related activities:

  • Provide a meeting area to accommodate groups. The educational programs associated with many exhibits require an area where schoolchildren and tour groups can gather. Such spaces should be located away from areas where objects are concentrated.


Position furnishings (shelves, panels and cases) to leave detectors clear and to minimize pollutant buildup:

  • Leave heat and smoke detectors and sprinklers clear. Tall cases and exhibit panels must not obstruct airflow around detectors, nor should they block proper sprinkler discharge patterns.
  • Provide air space between collections and known pollutant sources (concentrations of pollutants are highest near a contaminant such as large wooden exhibit panels and platforms).
  • Avoid creating pockets of still air in which pollutant levels can concentrate (for example, long runs of cases that extend from floor to ceiling).


Use furnishings (shelves, panels and cases) to enhance security:

  • Deter vandalism by using psychological barriers: raise large objects above floor level by placing them on sturdy platforms; separate objects by using ropes and floor markings.


Position cases in locations that will not interfere with case functioning:

  • Cases should not touch a building’s outside walls: exterior temperatures could affect the internal temperature and humidity of the case. Similarly, framed works should not be hung directly on external walls. (When the location of a case or frame cannot be changed, consider the use of insulating construction materials and thermal pane glass.)
  • Cases should not be placed near heat sources such as radiators, heaters or in front of windows
  • Cases should not be located near any sources of light that will add to the total light exposure of light-sensitive objects in the case.


Use layout to enhance exhibit lighting:

  • Separate bright public access areas from display areas, and provide adaptation paths between the two. The human eye needs time to adjust from bright to low light levels; therefore a gradual rather than abrupt transition between differently lit areas is critical to making objects visible at low, restricted light levels.