San Francisco is a city with a deep passion for learning about and discovering nature: since 1853 the city is the headquarters of the California Academy of Sciences, one of the most prestigious institutions in the US. RBWB reaffirms this strong vocation with an incredible and futuristic building, between landscape and discovery.
After the crushing effects of the Loma Quieta earthquake in 1989, a consultation for the new buildings’ project was necessary. Among the 11 old buildings, only three were conserved in the new design: the African Hall, the North American Hall and the Steinhart Aquarium. The new construction maintains the same position and orientation of its predecessor, inside the Golden Gate Park.
The design is characterized by a number of evocative elements: first and foremost, the green breathing roof. Everything in the building, from the materials to its shape, from its sinuous lines to its calculated precision, gives the building a futuristic image that strongly reaffirms the connection between man, nature and knowledge.
A central courtyard is the pivotal element of the Academy’s functions, and also its entrance and lobby. This meeting point is covered by a concave glass canopy (open at the center) with a reticular structure: a great example of biomimicry, as it looks like a spider web.
The canopy continues, on both sides, in a green and curved roof, covered with 1,700,000 selected autochthonous plants planted in a specifically conceived biodegradable coconut-fiber containers. The roof is flat along the perimeter but in the central part it turns into an increasingly undulated profile that emulates the surrounding hills, becoming part of the landscape. There are also two domes, filled with skylights, that cover the planetarium and the rain forest exhibition spaces.
As described by the architects, “the entire 37.000 sqm complex is like a piece of the park that has been cut away and lifted 10 m up above the ground”.
San Francisco’s passion for knowledge and discovery is followed by a great “environmental vocation”: the green technologies and solutions adopted are several and truly functioning.
Thanks to the special roof, air-conditioning is not needed: the soil’s moisture (combined with thermal inertia) cools significantly the interior of the museum. The double glass of the canopy contains photovoltaic cells that provide more than 5% of the electricity required by the museum.
Position and orientation of each space are studied in order to take advantage from natural lighting and natural ventilation. All these design efforts and attentions, combined with rainwater recovery, care for recycling and an accurate material choice helped the building to obtain the LEED platinum certification.