California Academy of Sciences
The new California Academy of Sciences houses the
Kimball Natural History Museum, Steinhart Aquarium and Morrison
Planetarium, along with eight scientific research departments and
over 20 million scientific specimens.
The design unifies the Academy's original array of twelve buildings, which were built over eight decades, into a single modern landmark that places a visual and intellectual emphasis on the natural world.
Topped with a 2.5-acre living roof the new California Academy of Sciences employs a wide range of energy-saving materials and technologies.
With the new Academy, we have created a museum that is visually and functionally linked to its natural surroundings, metaphorically lifting up a piece of the park and putting a building underneath.
Piano's design was inspired by the concept of metaphorically
lifting up a piece of the park and sliding the museum underneath.
Only one difference would exist between the plants on the roof and
the surrounding vegetation: the roof plants would all be native to
the northern California coast. To select the species for the new
Academy roof, Academy botanist Frank Almeda worked with a team of
architects and living roof experts.
Steep undulations in the roofline roll over the Academy's domed
planetarium, rainforest, and aquarium exhibits, echoing the
topography of the building's setting and evoking the
interdependence of biological and earth systems.
The iconic hills on the roof were designed not only for visual
impact but also for energy conservation. These hills, which feature
slopes in excess of 60 degrees, will draw cool air into the open
piazza at the center of the building, naturally ventilating the
surrounding exhibit spaces.
Strategically placed skylights will automatically open and close to allow heat to escape through the tops of the domes. These skylights will also allow sunlight to reach the living rainforest and coral reef exhibits below, reducing the energy requirements for artificial lighting.
Padded with six inches of soil, the roof will provide excellent
insulation, keeping interior temperatures about 10 degrees cooler
than a standard roof and reducing low frequency noise by 40
decibels. It will also decrease the urban heat island effect,
staying about 40 degrees cooler than a standard roof. Moreover, it
will absorb about 98% of all storm water, preventing up to 3.6
million gallons of runoff from carrying pollutants into the
ecosystem each year.
The roof is bordered by a glass canopy containing nearly 60,000 photo voltaic cells, which will produce over 5 percent of the Academy's annual energy needs and prevent the release of over 405,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions each year. These photo voltaic cells, clearly visible in the glass canopy, provide both shade and visual interest for the visitors below.
Piano's goal was to create a sense of transparency and
connectedness between the building and the park through both a
careful selection of materials and a thoughtful arrangement of
space. Glass is used extensively in the exterior walls, allowing
visitors to look through the museum to the surrounding green space
of the park along both the east-west axis and the north-south axis
of the building. The glass, which is manufactured in Germany, is
famous for its especially clear composition.
To enhance the open, airy feeling created by the glass, Piano
designed the central support columns to be extremely slender. A
series of carefully configured cables will prevent these slim
columns from bending. The concrete for the walls and floors is
untreated, continuing the emphasis on natural materials.
Museums are not usually transparent, they are opaque, they are closed. They are like a kingdom of darkness, and you are trapped inside. You don't see where you are. But here we are in the middle of a beautiful park, Golden Gate Park, so you want to look out and know where you are.
The site is located directly across from the new de Young
museum, which opened in October 2005 and was designed by Swiss
architects Herzog & de Meuron. The architectural dialogue
between the two buildings and their unique responses to the
environment of Golden Gate Park furthers San Francisco's growing
role in supporting groundbreaking architecture and design.
The new Academy is one of ten pilot "green building" projects of
the San Francisco Department of the Environment, part of a vanguard
initiative to develop models for workable, sustainable public
architecture. The new Academy will optimize use of resources,
minimize environmental impacts, and serve as an educational model
by demonstrating how humans can live and work in
Facts about California Academy of Sciences
Total public space: 100,000 ft2
Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Engineering and Sustainability Consulting:
Photographed by Tim Griffith
Last updated: December 19, 2013