The other day I visited the California Academy of Science in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. I had gone there many times as a child but not since it reopened in it’s new incarnation.
The old Academy was a neoclassical edifice to natural science, as stodgy as the War Memorial Opera House or City Hall. It also gave me my first introduction as a child to the world of Science and Natural History. I remember marveling at the raw power of the live alligators, struggling to understand the idea of rotational inertia (see the Foucault Pendulum retained from the old building) and being transported in my imagination to the African Savannah. These exhibits and others have been preserved in a clever reference to the former Academy.
The new building is a wonder of Modern Architecture. Renzo Piano and his design team created a masterpiece of multipurpose architecture that successfully takes a holistic approach to building design. The new Academy is at once a public natural history museum, a functioning research facility, a planetarium, an aquarium with the world’s largest man made coral reef, a rain forest biosphere, a restaurant, and last but not least an exemplary demonstration of green building.
The steel frame of the building is made from recycled scrap steel. The insulation is recycled blue jeans. A significant portion of the building’s power needs are provided by integrated solar panels. The whole building is ventilated by natural convection. And most spectacularly, the roof is a field of native plants and wild flowers that absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen.
My favorite exhibit is the rainforest biosphere. It is a 90 foot diameter, steel framed, glass habitat that has the five levels of the Amazon Jungle: • The Swamp • The Forest Floor • The Understory • The Canopy • The Emergent Zone Fish, snakes, spiders, birds and butterflies are all there for your curious observation.
I left the Academy at the end of our visit inspired with a new urge to save the planet by doing all I can to see that what we build respects the fact that we live in a closed loop system and that what we do effects the whole world and all the people who live here. I had my beginner’s mind restored about the need to make a difference. You should all go and take the kids.
Don’t just take my word for it. Check out their website and plan your trip today. http://www.calacademy.org/
Thanks for reading.