55 Music Concourse Dr.
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco CA
Regular Hours:


9:30 am – 5:00 pm


11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Members' Hours:


8:30 – 9:30 am


10:00 – 11:00 am

The Academy will be closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Planetarium will be closed Sep. 22, 23, 24

The Living Roof

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Every scientist is a pioneer. Every scientist loves projects that push the envelope of knowledge. This is another example.
—Frank Almeda, Senior Botanist
California Academy of Sciences

Renzo Piano's masterstroke of design lies in making the park's environment such a visible part of the building itself. The rooftop's seven undulating green hillocks pay homage to the iconic topography of San Francisco and blurs the boundary between building and parkland.

Hang On, Slopey

Assembling a 197,000-square-foot rooftop to accommodate a living tapestry of native plant species is challenging enough. Add to that the technical problems posed by the roof's extreme dips and slopes. How to keep the plants and soil from sliding off? Rana Creek, who worked with Piano to design the roof, developed and patented a solution called the BioTray®. They used 50,000 porous, biodegradable trays made from tree sap and coconut husks as containers for the vegetation. These trays line the rooftop like tile, yet enable the roots to grow and interlock, binding the trays together like patchwork.

Releasing the Heat

The more typical black tar-and-asphalt building rooftop leads to a phenomenon called the “Urban Heat Island” effect. The endless swath of black rooftops and pavement trap heat, causing cities to be 6 to 10 degrees warmer than outlying greenbelt areas. One-sixth of all electricity consumed in the U.S. goes to cool buildings. The Academy's green rooftop keeps the building's interior an average of 10 degrees cooler than a standard roof would. The plants also transform carbon dioxide into oxygen, capture rainwater, and reduce energy needs for heating and cooling.

Above the Museum

An open-air observation terrace enables visitors to get a close-up look at the roof's lush canopy of plants. The view encompasses the densest concentration of native wildflowers in San Francisco. The expansive vista is also an ideal location for watching Northern California’s birds, butterflies and insects. Skylights above the larger domes open and close throughout the day, enabling sunlight to reach the exhibits below. The steep slopes of the rooftop's hills draw cool air into the open piazza at the center of the building. Weather stations on the roof monitor wind, rain, and changes in temperature to help inform the automated passive ventilation systems.

Roof Access


The Living Roof is accessible from the third floor of the Academy.  There’s also an elevator for those in need.

Academy Floor Plan

Up on the Roof


The Living Roof´s 1.7 million native plants were specially chosen to flourish in Golden Gate Park´s climate.

After experimenting with thirty native species, the finalists were all able to self-propagate. These nine species, located inside and outside of the special exhibit, will thrive with little water, resist the salt spray from ocean air, and tolerate wind.


Four Perennial Plants

  • Strawberry — Fragaria chiloensis
  • Self Heal — Prunella vulgaris
  • Sea Pink — Armeria maritima ssp. californica
  • Stonecrop — Sedum spathulifolium

Five Annual Wildflowers

  • Tidy Tips — Layia platyglossa
  • Goldfield — Lasthenia californica
  • Miniature Lupine — Lupinus nanus
  • California Poppy — Eschscholzia californica
  • California Plantain — Plantago erecta

 List of all plant species on the roof [268k]