Marvel of a museum
Lori Brown goes gaga over the California Academy of Science
Looking for a fun and educational trip to take to learn more about sustainability and green-building features? If yes, then pack up the hybrid and head to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
Located in beautiful Golden Gate Park, the newly rebuilt science academy is a treasure chest of exotic reptiles, animals and plant life. Unusual and bizarre creatures live inside, artfully displayed in well-thought and -constructed environments, but if they aren’t tempting enough to lure you to the Bay Area, maybe your interest will be piqued by the fact that the building achieved the highest U.S. Green Building Council LEED rating of platinum.
The academy is now the largest platinum-rated public building in the world, and the world’s greenest museum. The construction of the $500 million building began in 2005 and was completed and opened to the public in September. The facility was designed by world-renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano who worked with the international design firm Stantec Architecture—a team that set out to earn the LEED NC platinum rating from conception.
Earning a platinum rating is a significant achievement, requiring projects to earn a minimum of 52 points out of a possible 69. The science academy earned 54 points. To give you an idea of the feat, take into consideration that there are only about 120 platinum-level buildings in the country.
What makes the California Academy of Sciences green? Just about everything, from the green-building design elements to the day-to-day operational practices.
Some of the new building’s eco-friendly features include a 2.5-acre living roof planted with 1.7 million native California plants; 60,000 photovoltaic cells that generate nearly 10 percent of the academy’s electricity needs from solar energy and prevents the release of 405,000 pounds of greenhouse-gas emissions; floor-to-ceiling exterior walls of glass that allow natural lighting into 90 percent of the building’s interior offices; and structural walls insulated with a product constructed from scraps of recycled denim.
When visiting the facility, be sure to check out the Build Green display. Located on the first level, this educational device is where visitors can touch a piece of the cotton insulation and learn about all of the academy’s green designs, such as the natural ventilation and radiant-floor heating systems.
The new building exemplifies the academy’s commitment to raising public awareness about the importance of adopting sustainable building designs that result in measurable environmental improvements. Experiencing the academy requires at least one full day to view the displays filled with the strangest creatures.
Some must-sees include the rainforest, the swamp and the living roof, which can be seen from an observation deck. Arrive early and obtain first-come first-served tickets to the awe-inspiring inaugural planetarium show, Fragile Planet, shown daily in the Morrison Planetarium—the world’s largest all-digital planetarium.
Ride the rails!
My advice is to visit the academy during the week if possible. Otherwise be prepared for long lines and many tourists. Be sure to mention to the ticket agent that you rode to the academy on public transportation; you’ll receive a $3 discount on your entrance fee. (Transfer from any downtown BART station—Embarcadero, Montgomery, Powell or Civic Center—to the Muni N Judah.) San Francisco is one of the easiest cities to navigate using public transportation. Have a great time!