Your eyes sweep across the panorama. Rolling hills are bursting with colorful wildflowers of vivid orange, yellow, and purple. A Bay Checkerspot butterfly dances by in the flickering light reflected by what looks like a pond but is in fact a skylight of Renzo Piano’s California Academy of Sciences building. Piano worked with Academy scientists and a team of California professionals, including Stantec Architecture from San Francisco, to revitalize the California Academy of Sciences building, located in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.
The most remarkable feature of the California Academy of Sciences building is the 197,000 sq. ft. (18,302 m2) living roof, which emulates the mountainous terrain of the San Francisco area. Three spherical elements push up the roof, creating an undulating roofscape. Within the hills reside the planetarium, rainforest, and aquarium exhibits. A large skylight is centered over a piazza within the museum, while smaller skylights resembling portholes on a ship cover the hills. A canopy of 60,000 photovoltaic cells wraps around the entire building like a veranda. The California Academy of Sciences building's living roof, which abides by California’s Title 24, reduces urban heat island effect by cooling the building, reduces noise by 40 decibels, and helps to prevent runoff by absorbing almost all rainwater. Sustainability is a focus and is upheld by using over 40 native California plants including poppies, strawberries, goldfield, and lupine. The plants were embedded on the roof by using an idea patented by Rana Creek (living roof consultant) called the BioTray, which is made from biodegradable natural materials. The BioTray is porous and allows the plant roots to grow through and take hold in the soil.
The new California Academy of Sciences building uses parts of the old to keep its memory alive. Today, the building is a menagerie of exhibits including the Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium, Kimball Natural History Museum, a 4-story rain forest, and a host of other attractions to fascinate visitors. It is also a science research facility, with labs, a library, and an extensive collection of specimens. Environmental friendliness infiltrates every part of the building, not just the roof. Floor to ceiling windows let in plentiful amounts of natural light to warm the building. Piano wanted to keep the atmosphere open, especially in the central piazza, and so installed slim support columns held steady by connecting cables. Radiant sub-floor heating, recycled denim insulation, and natural ventilation are additional sustainable features implemented in the California Academy of Sciences building.
The California Academy of Sciences was not the only one who wanted to renovate the old building; the San Francisco Department of the Environment included it as one of ten buildings in the area they wanted to make sustainable. The Department’s goal was to earn the highest LEED rating of platinum. Not only did they achieve the platinum rating, the California Academy of Sciences building, with a total area of 410,000 sq. ft. (38,090 m2), is the largest building in the world with that rating and has also been named the world’s greenest museum.
An alumni of The Ohio State University, Ms. D'Errico obtained a degree in travel writing through a study program that she created herself. For two years Ms. D'Errico served as a staff writer for The Animal Insider, a quarterly publication based in Columbus, Ohio, and has also worked as a review scout for the Columbus division of Yelp.com. Now she is trying her hand at covering ecologically responsible and sustainable architecture for Buildipedia.com.