How environmental comfort is necessary to live a complete emotional experience

At Palazzo Zabarella visitors are welcomed and accompanied to live a sensory experience made up of images, colours, emotions and breathing. Palazzo Zabarella is the first exhibition space in Italy that enhances and protects the historical and artistic heritage with an innovative system of air conditioning and purification of the ambient air.

Jonix and HiRef share their experience and research in the construction of systems for indoor air quality and precision air conditioning. They develop systems for the microclimatic control of museum environments, which are notoriously delicate in regards of temperature, humidity and pollutant parameters.

Palazzo Zabarella is one of the most prestigious historic buildings in Padua, restored with great care by the Bano Foundation about twenty years ago. Temporary exhibitions inside the halls of the building attract on average 150,000 visitors in about 4 months, with an extremely variable turnout both hourly and daily.

The number of people significantly changes the thermo-hygrometric conditions and compromises the quality of the indoor air with a double effect: alteration of the conditions that guarantee the correct conservation of the works of art and discomfort for the visitors.

The context and the problem

The works of art which are exhibited to the public, as a “testimony” to the path of civil and cultural growth for mankind in future generations, should be in optimal conditions and remain unchanged over time. In reality, they undergo deterioration, however slowly over time: paints fade, paper, wood and fabrics are subject to aggression by fungi and bacteria, and so on. In general, it can be said that in the materials that make up the painting, processes are activated that alter its original state, undermining its integrity; evidently, all this is in close relationship with the thermohygrometric and air quality conditions present in the environments in which these objects are stored.

Environmental comfort, on the other hand, is a fundamental requirement to allow people a full sensory perception of these works of art. Temperatures and humidity that are too high or too low, as well as the presence of volatile odours and pollutants, upset visitors and divert them from living a full emotional experience.

The preservation of the internal and external structural characteristics of Palazzo Zabarella and the problems outlined above required a modular and effective air conditioning system capable of guaranteeing the same microclimatic conditions even in situations of extreme variability in attendance.

Jonix and HiRef have developed an innovative precision air conditioning and air sanitising system that can maintain stable temperatures and humidity and reduce pollutants and odours. 

The solution for palazzo Zabarella 

Air conditioning system

The new air conditioning system serving Palazzo Zabarella was designed and built by HiRef following a careful analysis of the thermal loads, both sensitive and latent, in line with the regulatory indications for the conservation of works of art and for maintaining comfortable conditions in museum environments.

The heart of the air conditioning system is represented by the MHW heat pump powered by groundwater equipped with a combination of ON / OFF Scroll compressors and brushless DC inverters: this configuration allows you to benefit from particularly high energy efficiencies at partial loads, as well as obtain a stable chilled water temperature in all conditions. The moving parts are mounted on elastic supports to avoid the transmission of vibrations to the pipes and the consequent production of noise; a double panelling acoustically isolates the noisy sources to respect the rigorous silence required in the exhibition rooms. In the spaces open to the public, ESTRO self-sanitising fan coils from Galletti have been installed, fed by chilled water in summer and hot water in winter to guarantee the required temperature conditions; they are equipped with an ultrasonic humidifier installed onboard and a reprogrammable microprocessor. The dehumidification of the air is entrusted to a perimeter unit equipped with a water/air refrigeration cycle that dissipates the heat in the ring of water supplied by the heat pump; a chilled water coil covers part of the latent load.

The “brain” of the system is a microprocessor which, thanks to a software developed by the HiRef IT department, manages and monitors the entire system in order to guarantee the necessary thermohygrometric conditions while simultaneously searching for the point of maximum energy efficiency. Once the temperature and humidity parameters in the rooms have been satisfied, energy-saving is therefore a priority in the operation of the air conditioning system, to ensure a rapid return on investment and to minimise the environmental impact.

An innovative wireless sensor system completes the installation framework, a particularly effective solution in restricted buildings of high historical and cultural importance. 

Purification systems

Jonix deemed the installation of different types of devices (Jonix CUBE, Jonix MATE and Jonix INSIDE) useful in order to sanitise and deodorise the air and some equipment (fan coils and audio guides) to prevent the process of deterioration of the resulting works from environmental pollution, both biological and chemical, coming from outside and produced inside by the flow of visitors. All devices use Jonix NTP (Non-Thermal Plasma) cold plasma technology, the safest process for oxidising and decomposing pollutants (microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, moulds, volatile organic compounds).

There are six Jonix CUBEs throughout the exhibition area, positioned close to paintings, in order to counter high concentrations of compounds potentially harmful to the works and at the same time guarantee the visitor air free of bacteria and odours.

The room on the first floor has Jonix MATE, a sophisticated air filtration and sanitisation system that collects airborne dust in order to avoid their deposit on the canvas and to ensure decontamination from pollutants. Even in situations of high flow of visitors, the necessary sanitisation of the ambient air volume is guaranteed thanks to a modulating ventilation system managed by the control software.

The fan coils of the air conditioning system are equipped with Jonix INSIDE devices, which constantly keeps the critical parts sanitised inside the cabinet.

We also wanted to guarantee maximum hygiene to the visitor by creating an audio guide sanitisation system after each use.

The entire exhibition area at Palazzo Zabarella thus becomes a space with a unique microclimate: protection from degradation for works of art and a complete emotional experience for visitors.