Case study Serpentine Galleries, London

The Serpentine Galleries are two, world renowned, contemporary art galleries located in Kensington Gardens, central London. Comprising the Serpentine Gallery and the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, their exhibitions, architecture, education and public programmes attract up to 1.2 million visitors each year.

Evotech maintains the AC & chiller units, air handling units (AHUs) and ventilation systems for both sites along with gas boilers and appliances and electrical systems. Our engineers work hard to provide comprehensive planned and reactive, mechanical and electrical maintenance solutions, whilst meeting the demanding expectations of both client and artists showcasing their work, within the constraining parameters presented by the buildings’ Grade II listings.

However, when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, our team looked for innovative ways to assess and improve the indoor air quality in the galleries, to help reduce the transmission of viruses and improve visitor confidence once the galleries were able to reopen after lockdown.

So, in October 2020, our engineers deployed 6 Airthings for Business Wave Plus monitors and a hub in the Sackler Gallery and 12 monitors and a hub in the main gallery, to assess indoor air quality and virus transmission risk during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. This enabled our team to analyse and adjust indoor environmental conditions to provide a safe environment for both staff and visitors when the galleries were able to re-open.

Virus alert indicator initially highlights virus transmission risks

Overall, ventilation levels and air quality proved to be good throughout the galleries and office spaces, however, whilst temperature and humidity were within normal parameters they were both quite low, causing 5 air quality sensors in the Serpentine Gallery and 2 in the Sackler Gallery to trigger an amber virus alert.

When humidity levels are low, it means indoor air is dry, and this can allow airborne microdroplets and bacteria to stay airborne for longer periods of time. Ideally, relative humidity should be kept between 40 and 60 percent to help prevent the spread of viruses and the growth of mould on the fabric of the building, and these conditions are also good to prevent most exhibits deteriorating.

However, humidity levels in museums and art galleries are notoriously difficult to maintain as the constant influx of people can cause both temperature and humidity to fluctuate substantially throughout the day.

Air purification technology solutions installed

For this reason, the decision was taken to pilot air purification technology in the galleries, office spaces and meeting rooms. Using the Aura Air for smaller spaces and Rensair units for larger areas proved successful, with the units filtering the air using HEPA filters and killing 99.9 percent of viruses and bacteria through the inbuilt UV light technology.

In the offices and meeting rooms, the Aura Air changes the air at a rate of 350 m3/hr (CADR 206 CFM) and is suitable for rooms up to 55m2 / 600 sqft. In addition, its IAQ sensors and patented AI technology automatically optimises air quality, switching the unit up and down as required.

Rensair’s Core 560 hospital-grade air purifier is in use in the gallery spaces and is a heavy-duty, yet portable device suited to a wide range of shared indoor spaces. With both HEPA13 filtration and UVC light technology, it both filters out fine particulates and destroys bacteria and viruses and can clear a 45m3 room in just 1.3 minutes.

The Galleries now have 22 air purifiers distributed across their gallery spaces, offices and meeting rooms. The Airthings for Business IAQ monitors continue to provide indoor air quality data in real-time, and since the deployment of air purification technology, staff and visitors alike have enjoyed healthy filtered air.

The Serpentine Galleries boasts healthy, filtered indoor air

The sensors continue to trigger the virus alert indicator during the cooler winter months when the temperature and relative humidity are lower, but this marginally raised risk in virus survival and transmission rate is offset by the air purification technology that kills viruses as air passes through the units. Overall, Serpentines’ journey with us demonstrates that indoor biosecurity and the safety of the public from transmissible disease requires a holistic approach.

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