Sustaining Michelangelo’s frescoes with sustainable technology
The artistic brilliance of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel frescoes are often said to take one's breath away. An instinctive act of reverence for time-tested talent—but, in reality, the simple act of breathing, exhaling carbon dioxide, by the Chapel’s six million annual visitors has been contaminating, and deteriorating, the frescoes. The problem became so severe that the Vatican considered closing the chapel to the public.
Enter technology. Faced with the challenge of preserving a 532-year-old masterpiece, the Vatican approached the Carrier air conditioning unit of United Technologies. Carrier designed and commissioned the first air conditioning and ventilation system for the Sistine Chapel in 1993, but in the last 20 years the Chapel’s visitors have increased nearly six-fold, and a new system was needed to control ventilation to protect the frescoes.
Carrier spent four years with design engineers on two continents to perfect the new system, which was dedicated Oct. 30, 2014. Specialized modeling was used to manage and predict air flow in the unique vaulted ceiling design of the chapel to maintain optimum temperature, humidity and control over carbon dioxide and other pollutants such as dust and dirt inadvertently carried by visitors.
The new system is also twice as energy efficient as the system it replaced, with three times the cooling capacity. And it’s smart. It uses an intelligent system of controls linked to an advanced video application, which enables the HVAC system to anticipate visitor levels and adjust its performance intuitively. It is constantly monitored and calibrated by 70 sensors. And of equal importance, it’s hidden from view of the Chapel’s 20,000 daily visitors and operates at “church-quiet” levels.
This meeting of state-of-the-art technology and significant artwork is a perfect fit: one innovation preserving another. From our earliest days, we’ve documented our triumphs, our tragedies, and our culture with art—perhaps none better than Michelangelo. So by preserving art, we preserve the record of humanity.
So, we can breathe easier—especially in the presence of Michelangelo's genius at the Sistine Chapel. Advanced, energy-efficient technology is protecting a breathtaking, centuries-old masterpiece for generations to come.
John Mandyck is chief sustainability officer for UTC Building & Industrial Systems, a unit of United Technologies, Corp., a leading provider to the aerospace and building systems industries worldwide. Mandyck chairs the Corporate Advisory Board of the World Green Building Council and serves as chairman of the Board of Directors for the Urban Green Council in New York City. He is also a member of the China Green Building Council International Committee and was appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Energy to co-chair the Department of Energy’s Appliance Standards and Rulemaking Federal Advisory Committee. Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMandyck.