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Chemical Heritage Foundation: Preserving the history of modern scientific discoveries from the past 200 years

The Story

The Chemical Heritage Foundation needed to convert a boarded-up eyesore of a building into the John C. Haas Archive of Science and Business at CHF. But the building could not be torn down or expanded because of its historical significance. The tall, narrow structure needed a substantial transformation to become a great solution.

The Building

After Chemical Heritage Foundation’s building (which was built in 1865) went through a massive renovation in 2008, there was no more space to build additional archive storage. However, there was an old building near that site from the 1850s. The Foundation decided they wanted to use and restore it, partly because the
location solved logistic retrieval issues, and partly because they wanted to give back to the community by revitalizing an historic building. “On the one hand it was condemned by the city as being structurally unsound, but it was also deemed a contributing historical component of the neighborhood,” said Ed Barnhart, the architect who worked on the project. At first, the architect investigated using individual floors in the building (4 floors originally) but once he accounted for an elevator and two egress stairways, there was no real useable space left to store the archives.

Vertical Storage
They decided to eliminate the second and third story floors and explore solutions focusing on vertical storage.

How do we fit 8,000 boxes in this space?
Width of building interior: 16 feet. Distance from free throw line to backboard: 15 feet. Imagine trying to fit 8,000 one-foot wide boxes in a building less than a quarter of a basketball court.

36 feet of shelving height
Sixteen feet of width was enough space to fit three shelves of
conventional, static high-bay shelving along with two access
aisles.  Better yet, using XTend Mobile High-Bay system, CHF
could fit four mobile shelves and have one mobile aisle.

The History & Purpose

The Chemical Heritage Foundation, headquartered in Philadelphia, PA, is part museum, part library, part research and outreach facility. The foundation is dedicated to preserving the history of modern scientific discoveries from the past 200 years and ultimately sharing these ‘unique, unpublished materials’ with those interested. The collection contains work from many noteworthy scientists, from Dr. Daniel W. Fox, a polymer chemist from GE Plastics, to Joseph Labovsky who worked to develop NYLON.

The Challenges

CHF wanted to better organize the existing collection and then make it more accessible to researchers and patrons. This was a challenge for a number of reasons, one being that because the collection was already at capacity in their current space, any new acquisitions had to be shipped off-site to an environmentally controlled vault storage facility in Delaware. This vault solution created a 2-day turnaround for obtaining archive materials. It soon became clear that CHF needed to bring their collection back on-site in order to better serve their fellows, researchers and even staff. To do this, they needed innovative archive storage solutions.

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