Preeminent natural history museum to reopen under green blanket of living roof
The sustainable new home for the California Academy of Sciences will open its many doors on the 27th of September after nearly a decade of planning and the largest cultural fundraising effort in San Francisco history.
The Renzo Piano Building Workshop, in collaboration with local firm Stantec Architecture worked with the Academy to create a design that unifies the Academy’s original array of twelve buildings built between 1916 and 1991, into a single modern landmark. Covering 410,000 sq ft, the institution will be the unified home to the Steinhart Aquarium, the Morrison Planetarium, the Kimball Natural History Museum and research and education programs.
Renzo 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 such as glass slender support columns and a thoughtful arrangement of space.
“Museums are not usually transparent,” says Piano. “They are opaque, they are closed. They are like a kingdom of darkness, and you are trapped inside. With the new Academy, we are creating 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”.
And that is exactly what the eye meets on arrival: an undulating green roof expanding over 2.5 acre, landscaped with 1.7 million individual native plant species, unifying the different functions of the museum, creating a new link in the ecological corridor for wildlife. The living roof reduces storm water runoff by up to 3.6 million gallons of water per year and includes an observation deck, allowing visitors to admire the rooftop wildlife haven and learn about the benefits of this sustainable feature. The “green blanket” is bordered by a glass canopy containing nearly 60,000 photo voltaic cells, which will produce up to 10 percent of the Academy’s annual energy needs. These photo voltaic cells are clearly visible in the glass canopy, providing both shade and visual interest for the visitors below.
The new Academy is one of ten pilot “green building” projects of the San Francisco Department of the Environment and thanks to the dedication to environmental responsibility of its creators is expected to be the largest public LEED platinum building in the world.