Preparation and the Engineering Design Process

Today’s team-building exercise involved making a pentagram out of a length of yarn. We had five minutes to plan how to “draw” the figure as a group, and the execution of our strategy had to take place in total silence. At first, the yarn wasn’t tied at the ends, so we just had to go through the motions of drawing the typical five-point star. Afterward, Dr. Wettergreen tied the yarn together so that we had to give the process more thought. Ting figured out how, starting from a triangle, we could cross the yarn of one side upon itself and pull it up to form a pentagram (which ended up being easier than our first task). Success!

A part of becoming familiar with the engineering design process involves understanding our project management. Throughout the project, we have several mentors inside and outside Rice. Within Rice, we have the support from Dr. Oden and Dr. Wettergreen, as well as the MFAH head conservator Wynne Phelan and the MFAH Head Registrar Julie Bakke. Dr. Wettergreen is our primary mentor, and will guide us along the process. In order to ensure a successful project, we have to set appropriate deadlines that give us ample time to finalize and perfect each component. Along with clear goals and deadlines, documentation plays an extremely important role. All the work we do must be documented in some form either in our binder, wiki or both. When working with paper, it’s important to use ink and to date and sign each page to secure the page’s integrity. This will allow us or anyone else to follow or process later, and reproduce it. Following this idea, we should never erase ideas that we decide to get rid of. It’s possible that they could prove useful later, or would merely illustrate how we reached our end result.

We had two lectures on the engineering design process. The first one was on the general design process, which is split into two parts: the design analysis and the solution stage. These two stages can be further broken down into five steps.

1a) defining and understanding the problem

1b) brainstorming solutions to the problem and picking the best ones

2) coming up with a design strategy and building our initial prototype based on 1b

3) testing and refining out prototype

4&5) analyze our work from start to finish, and write a final report

Our second lecture focused on the design analysis stage — specifically parts 1a and 1b. We brainstormed the main issues we will have to take into consideration as we come up with the design, and the driving criteria behind creating a new storage. We also discussed the importance of quantifying everything, so we have a basis for comparison and reproduction.

After lunch, we walked through the Museum of Fine Arts Houston to get an idea of the paintings we will be attempting to store in our new design solution. While the museum was filled with many traveling exhibitions, we were able to focus our attention to the modern and contemporary permanent collection works. We noted how the paintings differed in overall size, frame, and media, and we began to consider how these differences would translate into our travel frame design.

ENGI/HUMA 240: Engineering and Design for Art Conservation

Rice University – School of Engineering / School of Humanities
Fall 2009, Humanities 119, TR 9:25 – 10:40 AM
Instructor: Dr. Matthew Wettergreen
Office: OEDK
Office Phone: 713.825.4613
Office Hours: TR 12:00 – 4:00pm and by appointment

Course Description
The objective of this course is to apply the engineering design process to pressing problems in art conservation. One half of this course will focus on the history and practices of art conservation at modern museums.  The other half of this course will utilize the engineering design process to apply the art conservation knowledge to develop innovative storage solutions for the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.

Each week, students will be briefed on a specific issue relating to the art conservation world, starting with the history of conservation leading up through modern times. Students will be given a unique and private insight to the inner workings of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, including behind-the-scenes access to their storage and conservation facilities. Museum officials will discuss the hidden portions of the museum and the day-to-day of the modern museum. Art storage experts will address the handling and storage of our cultural heritage. Students will learn the properties of materials used in art and the properties of materials used in its storage and preservation. Local conservators will guest lecture, providing unique perspectives on conservation principles in practice. A living artist will provide a perspective of their background, creative process and conservation concerns for their art. Finally, students will learn preventive conservation in long-term art ownership and cultural heritage disaster and damage preparation.

Each week’s art conservation topic corresponds with a step in the Engineering Design Process, a decision based system for developing new products or solutions. One case study will be presented per week that highlights the relationships between the art world and the engineering world. The art conservation lectures and the case study will provide the framework for a semester-long project where student teams will address their own unique conservation issue. Each team will select a piece from the MFAH’s private collection and then develop an innovative storage solution for that piece, culminating in a product design presented at the end of the semester. Through the engineering design process student teams will gain an understanding the problem in context, learn the current solutions, develop design criteria, brainstorm solutions and develop a product. In class activities that foster increased creativity and non-traditional thinking will help to arrive at unique solutions for the semester project.

Students will apply a digital workflow over the course of the semester, resting upon web 2.0 tools to transparently document and research the topic of conservation. Students will have their own blog where they will post recaps of the week’s information, progress reports for their semester long project and relevant information pertaining to art conservation.