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Subject: Historischen Stadtarchivs Koln collapses--addendum

Historischen Stadtarchivs Koln collapses--addendum

From: Georgia Iona <georgia_iona<-at->
Date: Saturday, May 16, 2009
Collapse of the Historic Archive of the city of Cologne
March 3, 20099

The Historic Archive of Cologne was built at the beginning of 1970s
and it was located on Severinstrasse, in the southern part of
Cologne's city centre. The main storage building was designed in
such a way to protect archival material from climate fluctuations
creating a structural-physical balanced room climate. Most of the
auxiliary rooms and offices, including the conservation studio, were
situated in an annex adjacent to the main building. The six-storey
building housed the municipal archive of the city. In total it kept
27 linear kilometres of official and private records, including
65,000 charters, 104,000 maps and architectural plans, 50,000
posters, 800 estates literary remains and other special collections
of significant historical value. Some of the oldest documents date
back to the early Middle Ages.

The Historic Archive of Cologne collapsed on March 3 2009, along
with two neighbouring residential buildings. The building itself can
be characterised as a well-built construction, made of robust
materials, such as stone, concrete and metal, showing no obvious
signs of deterioration. A still on-going investigation as to which
was the cause of the collapse primarily focused on the construction
of a new subway tunnel at the site. In particular the local media
made reference to an erroneous extraction of underground waters from
the building pit.

The incident was handled as an emergency situation. Access to the
area was immediately prohibited and an emergency evacuation
procedure of the Archive and the surrounding buildings followed. The
scene was soon crowded by emergency rescue crews.  The emergency
situation was handled strictly by the local police in cooperation
with the Fire Brigade, German Federal Agency for Technical Relief
(THW), General Health and Hospital Care and the City of Cologne.

Thanks to the immediate warning, all staff and visitors evacuated
the building within a few minutes. All archive personnel and users
have survived without any injuries being reported. Unfortunately,
two young residents of the adjacent residential buildings that also
collapsed were fatally injured. Victims received counselling and
financial support.

Within the next days of the collapse, an evacuation operation of the
intact rooms of building was performed. During this procedure
archival material, office and conservation studio equipment were
removed form the intact annex building. The debris of the collapsed
building was covered with a gigantic plastic cover in order to
prevent further inflow of rainwater into the site. At a later stage
the entire area of the incident was housed under a metal umbrella
roof.

The very first dry archival materials that came out from the
undamaged cellars of the archive were packaged into paperboard
boxes. Intact parchment documents and rare books from the Middle
Ages were enclosed into metal containers. Wet and damp archival
materials were packed inside waterproof film and sent for freezing.

At the very first two weeks after the collapse, all excavated
materials were transported into a hall in order to be separated from
debris and building rubble, identified and categorised as dry, moist
and wet; in order to be packed, stored and treated accordingly. From
the beginning und until now all recovered archival materials are
deposited into storage rooms from museums, archives and private
warehouses specially rented for this purpose.

As a principle, all wet and mold-contaminated files, books and
documents are packed in stretch film and sent for freeze-drying.
Archival materials contaminated with mold are treated separately,
avoiding any contact with the rest of the documents. The majority of
the archival material, which is moist in most of the occasions, is
packed temporarily into boxes and sent for first-aid treatments to a
provisional identification and conservation hall, located a few
kilometres from the site of collapse. First-aid treatments involve
identification and short listing of the archival material, as well
as air dry cleaning and air-drying inside chambers with
uninterrupted air circulation, temperatures between 25-30 deg. C and
25-33% relative humidity. Drying time varies from 6 to 24 hours,
depending on the condition of the moist documents.

As a last step, archival materials are packed inside numbered acid
free paperboard boxes or folders and sent for temporary storage. The
complete evacuation of the Archive from its actual stock and
demolition of any remaining building parts is expected to be
complete within several weeks. To this date access to the area of
the incident is restricted only to the fire brigade, THW, authorised
personnel of the archive and to a limited number of aid workers that
hold a specific permission licence.

The exact degree of damage made to the documents kept in the archive
building is still not known. However, it is believed that a
substantial part of the records has been recovered.  Future plans
for the recovery and the rejoining of the disordered archival stock
involve the foundation of a Conservation and Digitalisation Centre,
were the damaged books, files and documents would be digitalised and
receive all appropriate conservation treatments. This scenario
implies that conservation for the majority of the documents will
involve preventive and interceptive treatments, aiming to prevent
any further loss of original material. Additionally, objects will be
brought to a state that would enable and secure their further use as
sources of information.

Georgia Iona M.A.
Conservation and restoration of archival material
Historisches Archiv der Stadt Koln
Stadthaus Deutz 14 D 60
Willy-Brant-Platz 3
Koln D-50679
Deutschland
+49 160 4174080


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                  Conservation DistList Instance 22:68
                   Distributed: Monday, May 18, 2009
                       Message Id: cdl-22-68-002
                                  ***
Received on Saturday, 16 May, 2009

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