The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco is one of the few natural science institutes combining public education directly with scientific research, conducted on site. The primary objective in deciding to remodel the new Academy was to expand its activities, and to enlarge the exhibition spaces and research centre, while also finding new and innovative ways to welcome and accommodate increasing numbers of visitors. The building houses a natural history museum, an aquarium and a planetarium, bringing together the themes of nature, science and civilization. The new Academy is fully integrated into its natural environment, the Golden Gate Park, and makes extensive use of energy saving techniques. The declared mission of the Academy is to “Explore, Explain and Protect the Natural World” creating the ideal premises for the development of sustainable design strategies. Choice of materials, recycling, exploitation of natural light and natural ventilation, the utilisation of water, including the recovery of rainwater, and energy production were all design issues that would become an integral part of the overhaul, helping ultimately to secure Platinum certification for the museum under the LEED programme. Some of the old buildings were demolished, reduced to rubble and reused in the new structures. Wall insulation was made from scraps of denim cloth provided by Levi Strauss & Co. 95% of the steel utilised came from recycled material. Three of the existing buildings - the African Hall, North American (California) Hall and Steinhart Aquarium - were reclaimed and rebuilt in their original volume. The new building retains the position and orientation of the original Academy and all the attractions are organised around the central piazza. The dome of the Planetarium and the rainforest biosphere flank the piazza on either side. This is the point interlinking all sections of the museum together, and is covered by a glass roof with a lattice structure suggestive of a spider’s web. The centre of the structure is open to the sky. The features of the piazza also combine to provide an ideal venue for concerts and other events. The roof formally unifies the organism as a “living structure”, covered with a shallow layer of soil providing a bed for 1,700,000 small plants selected to survive in the microclimate of the Golden Gate Park without the need for fertilizers or artificial irrigation systems. Whilst the vegetation is decorative, it also serves a practical purpose: the moisture in the soil has the effect of lowering the temperature inside the museum by 5 or 6 °C, and this - uniquely in the US - means that there is no need for air conditioning in the public spaces on the ground floor, for in the research offices along the façade. 15% of the museum’s electrical power requirement is produced by 55,000 photo voltaic cells, sandwiched between two sheets of glass, which make up a transparent canopy around the perimeter of the living roof. The fixtures used by Renzo Piano for this project include Le Perroquet in a special outdoor version, used also at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, coloured grey and red.
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