Display Cases

Display cases, if well designed, can be used to control the environmental conditions (for example, relative humidity [RH] and pollutants) around valuable and vulnerable collections and can help reduce the risks of damage to the objects on display (from light, theft and vandalism). These controls, however, present designers with the challenge of maintaining several performance specifications while developing a display that highlights particular objects and tells their story. Due to the varying functions display cases may have to fulfill, many questions still persist about museum case design for designers, conservators and museum professionals alike, such as:

  • Should I retrofit existing display cases and, if so, how?
  • Are there sustainable approaches to display case design?
  • Why can I not use certain materials? Are there design solutions to these problems?
  • How tight is tight enough when it comes to air leakage? How do I measure it?
  • When do I need extra materials in the case, like humidity buffers and scavengers? How much?
  • What are the advantages of creating a microenvironment within the case, rather than controlling humidity and pollutants at the room level?
  • Do new lighting technologies change the old rules about case lighting?
  • How do I communicate my requirements to the other specialists involved in the design and fabrication of display cases?

Learning objectives

Upon completion of this workshop, participants will have an increased understanding of many factors related to museum display cases, including:

  • the effect of RH, light and pollutants on objects, and mitigation of the related risks;
  • issues related to retrofitting existing display cases;
  • specifications for display case design and fabrication, based on the needs of objects or lender conditions and budget allowed; and
  • balance between preservation, access and visibility, as well as sustainability and cost.


Relative humidity

  • Sensitivity of objects to RH.
  • Active and passive control.
  • Measurement of the humidity.


  • An overview of general lighting practice for the display of objects: estimating light sensitivity, managing total dose and ultraviolet exposure, and light quality.
  • The use of modern lighting technology, such as LEDs, and approaches for lighting within a display case.


  • Sensitivity of objects to indoor and outdoor pollutants.
  • Common control strategies.


  • Review of typical products used for display cases.


  • Best practice for securely presenting museum objects, including materials and design considerations for different levels of security requirements.


  • Determination of the leakage rate.
  • Improving airtightness.
  • Impacts on RH and pollutants.

Design and specifications

  • Principles of design.
  • Requirements for permanent, temporary and travelling exhibitions.

Target audience

Museum and gallery staff and curators involved in, or responsible for, the design, construction and maintenance of display cases.



Enrollment limits

Minimum 10, maximum 20


Two days

Special requirements

The host institution must provide the following:

  • a meeting room where people can work in groups of about four;
  • a flip chart or whiteboard for the instructors;
  • a laptop, a projector (and any electric extension cords needed for their installation) and a projection screen (or white wall); and
  • a table for the projector (if necessary) and a table for CCI materials.
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