View Full Version : Reinforcing New Gallery walls

T. Ashley McGrew
07-23-2010, 08:16 AM
I realized in his thread discussing Gallery Models, Thriver mentioned that the walls in his museum are reinforced with plywood that is set behind the drywall and runs from the four foot, eight feet up the wall to the twelve foot mark.
I have heard of the same set-up being employed at other museums and it was what was specified at the the Getty when I worked there as well.

Thriver expressed some concerns about installing below the four foot mark and describes a method to "bridge the gap".

I agree with his accessment.
In addition as hard as it might be for folks in museums with some kinds of collections to envision I have personally had to install hanging hardware above the twelve foot mark on several occasions. Obviously if you are installing something that high there is a fairly high probability that it is large (and quite possibly heavy).

As well I have had to install "L-Shaped" brackets or ledges to support the bottoms of artwork on several occasions. There again they tended to be large and heavy objects and as such the bottoms were below the four foot line. While at least in this scenario the placement of the anchor doen't have to correspond to the hanging hardware of the piece but instead (depending on the length of your bracket) can potentially utilize one or more studs.
Still though with the prominent current use of metal studs (which to me represent no real sense of security) it would be more desirable to have actual backing in the walls at those heights as well.

I would recommend any institution doing new construction that they consider instead of ply backing being installed from 4' to 12' that another sheet be added to run from something like 2' to 14".
Before folks start balking, remember that if you are reinforcing the walls at all this will represent a relatively small addition to construction costs.
Once you put in any plywood, anywhere in a wall the real added expense comes in the form of the labor required to "block out" the entire wall so that the drywall is even.
The additional sheet of plywood at the time of this writing would come to $3.25 a running foot of gallery wall space (for 3/4" CDX) and that is if it is purchased retail at a local mom and pop lumber yard.
The added safety and efficiency gained spread over the course of many years would seem to justify making this adjustment to the standard.
Just some thoughts

Paul Brewin
07-23-2010, 08:49 AM
During the expansion project at my previous museum job, it was like pulling teeth to get the architect to approve the installation of plywood in the temporary gallery space. We ended up with only half the gallery done. Costs were cited (although this was at a time of the project when other costs had already piled up and driven things way overbudget). I want to say that part of the cost was that FRT was required by code (a fire-resistant plywood), so it was more expensive than CDX (not sure how much but I would guess double), along with the added labor of the second layer of sheathing work. We asked for full height installation; I agree that the labor just to block out a couple feet would be outweighed by a little more material cost and just do the entire wall.

T. Ashley McGrew
07-23-2010, 12:52 PM
Good point Paul,
Building codes will vary by city, region and to some degree even just by circumstance.
Working at the Getty was interesting because it is not just subject to the normal codes implimented by the City of Los Angeles for venues that are open to the public in an earthquake zone, but due to the relative isolation of the site it was subject to the same restrictions as a "highrise" even though it had no public areas more than three stories high and only two that were above grade!

Though some aspects of museum construction may vary, the one thing that seems to be fairly consistent across the country and over time is that Architects given the opportunity will consistantly place more emphasis on their aesthetic "vision" than on how the consequences of their choices might effect object safety. Don't know how these details become so "peripheral" to the goals of construction/expansion.

For the most consistent example of this dynamic, maybe we should start a thread where folks can post images of each new museum or expansion that is completed with a loading dock that doesn't provide trailer access or some other minor detail that make it unworkable.

Robert Thurmer
01-12-2011, 11:01 AM
We are beginning the design phase for a move to a new raw space.

I am looking for documents regarding specifications for gallery walls, floors, ceilings, etc. perhaps also exhibition furniture and temporary walls. I am interested in load capacities and construction methods and basic infra-structure design guidelines that I can share with the architect. I would welcome personal experiences with these kinds of issues, particularly the pitfalls to avoid.

We have 3/4 inch plywood behind 1/2 inch drywall from floor to 17ft-high ceiling in the current space and have never regretted the expense. We have had occasion to use the additional reinforcement in a variety of situations.
Robert Thurmer
Director, Art Gallery
Cleveland State University

Paul Brewin
01-12-2011, 01:20 PM
I'm not aware of such documents, seems like something needed if it does not exist.

Robert Thurmer
01-13-2011, 07:33 AM
I would be glad to share the results of my research if you think that there might be interest.

Paul Brewin
01-13-2011, 03:37 PM
Absolutely share if you can! My only input from speaking with drywall contractors is to use 5/8" drywall as it's more rigid, hence flatter; 1/2" drywall might bend to fit less-than-flat plywood faces when installed. We have used the combo of 5/8" ply and 5/8" drywall for some temporary gallery wall construction; saves a little money on plywood cost without a significant loss of screw holding ability. Of course that is not based on any kind of "standard". The aforementioned architect noted that the plywood should be fire-rated at least for a permanent installation. I'm sure codes vary on that state to state. For extreme holding power there is marine grade plywood, but that's pretty expensive.