Fire Safety Engineering for the Egyptian Museum of Turin

Museums are precious places. On the one hand, they collect prestigious works and objects, unique pieces that mark man’s cultural journey. On the other, they gather many people and foster exchange, dialogue, and discovery. As historic or architecturally valuable buildings, they are often subject to the constraints of the superintendency. Therefore, to ensure the quality of the redevelopment and re-functionalization works they inevitably undergo over time, it is necessary to intervene lightly from a plant engineering point of view. Fire engineering is the discipline to reconcile this need with safety objectives. In this article, we will illustrate the contribution of Fire Safety Engineering (FSE), the performance-based approach to fire safety, in designing the fire prevention plan for this type of structure, taking the case of FSE for the Egyptian Museum in Turin as an example.

1. The Egyptian Museum: a unique heritage

Turin’s Egyptian Museum is the world’s oldest museum devoted to Egyptian civilization, containing more than 40,000 pieces ranging from the Paleolithic to the Coptic period. There are 24 human mummies on display, 700 complete papyri, and 17,000 fragments. The site hosts the Tomb of Kha and Merit, today the best-preserved non-royal tomb, and the statue of Ramesses II, among the most important pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. Together, the relics make it the most important museum after Cairo and one of the most visited in Italy: in 2022, there were nearly 900,000 visitors.

2. Fire safety design in prestigious buildings

Due to the importance of the cultural heritage, the architectural prestige of the structure, and the volume of visitors, designing fire protection systems in such environments requires a flexible approach able to guarantee maximum safety in different emergency scenarios. Visitor peace of mind is also essential for an immersive cultural experience: behind the feeling of safety when walking among the works is the assurance of an appropriate fire prevention plan.

3. When to use Fire Safety Engineering as an alternative solution

How to develop a fire safety plan in such complex sites? In cases like these, the relevant regulations allow alternative solutions in fire safety design. FSE, with an engineering approach based on computational fluid dynamics (CFD), makes it possible to prefigure different fire scenarios through CFD simulation models. In this way, a tailor-made fire strategy can be defined, respecting as much as possible the building’s aesthetics.

4. The FSE application process for the Egyptian Museum redevelopment

Cantene supported the recent redevelopment works regarding the ground and underground floors of the Egyptian Museum, developing fire engineering activities for GAe Engineering (Eng. Giuseppe Gaspare Amaro). The goal was to verify that the building met the safety standards even after the architectural redesign. Thanks to the contribution of Fire Safety Engineering’s performance-based approach, the review of the fire safety project was successful.
Both crowd dynamics and fire simulations (3D CFD) were conducted.

1) Exodus simulation

A 3D model of the entire building was created, including furniture and fittings. Launching a simulation of exodus on a typical day made it possible to determine the time visitors take to evacuate the building. The simulation was done from crowding data based on the museum’s data history.

2) Simulation of fire scenarios

A series of fire simulations were carried out on the ground floor to ensure that the smoke produced by the fire did not reach the staircase, rising to the upper floors and interfering with the people’s escape. It was also verified that visitors would not come into contact with the products of combustion (ASET/RSET verification) during the evacuation.

Properly combined, the simulation results provide a quantitative contribution around the level of visitor risk exposure in case of emergency and thus return a rigorous reference for evaluating the goodness of the identified solutions, both in terms of architecture and of the more general fire safety strategy.

5. Conclusions

Thanks to the contribution of Fire Safety Engineering, it was possible to successfully support the fire safety aspects related to the project of re-functionalization of some areas of Turin’s Egyptian Museum.