Academy Will Create Ground-Breaking Installations and Exhibitions To Bring the Latest Science to the Public

As Country's Only Combined Aquarium, Planetarium, and Natural History Museum Academy Uniquely Positioned to Explore the Connections within the Natural World

SAN FRANCISCO (April 24, 2001)--The California Academy of Sciences today announced its vision and initial plans for a comprehensive upgrade and integration of its public spaces, exhibition halls, distance-learning and educational programming, and scientific research facilities. The new Academy will connect people with the sciences and nature in profound, new ways. New communications technology and innovative exhibitions will enable visitors to learn directly from scientists who are exploring the natural world and will bring the latest scientific discoveries and information out from behind-the-scenes and into the Academy's public exhibition halls.

To determine how best to meet this challenge, the California Academy of Sciences has been engaged in a comprehensive, multi-year planning process. The Academy has secured the input and visions of its visitors, residents of the San Francisco area, scientists, natural history museum directors, educators, leaders in technology and business, community leaders, environmentalists, and designers to find dynamic ways to serve its diverse local and national audiences, and to strengthen its position as one of the country's foremost research centers in the natural sciences.

As an outgrowth of these discussions, the Academy has brought together a multidisciplinary team of scientists, educators, exhibition specialists, and designers to conceive and implement the development of its new facility and exhibitions. The Academy has selected Architect Renzo Piano - internationally recognized for his sensitivity to the environment in which his buildings are constructed - to design the new structure. The local architect for the project is San Francisco-based Gordon H. Chong, and partners; Mr. Chong will serve as president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), in 2002.

As part of the upgrade, the Academy will restore its historic buildings to maintain the institution's architectural heritage and will preserve exhibitions including the African Hall and dioramas of California wildlife. The new design, which will not exceed the footprint of the existing building, will better integrate the Academy into Golden Gate Park as a way of enriching the experience of the museum visitors and visitors to the Park itself. The combination of innovative design and historic elements in a tremendous natural setting will create a harmonious and imaginative expression of our new understanding of the natural world and our own connection with it.

"The California Academy of Sciences was established in 1853 for the purposes of exploring and explaining the world around us," said Curator and Executive Director Dr. Patrick Kociolek. "As we embark upon the 21st century, the process of science and our understanding of nature has changed. We better understand the interconnections between different systems in nature and our own connection as individuals to the health of the planet.

"While science has evolved, the Academy's physical structure has not" Dr. Kociolek added. "Our current facility simply cannot keep pace with the changing needs of research, and our public spaces are not at the standard of safety and excellence required to serve our visitors and support our school districts. The new Academy will address these changing needs and will provide the intellectual tools to help people make informed decisions about their lives today as well as the health of future generations and of our planet. And perhaps most important of all, the new Academy will fill our visitors with awe at the sheer beauty of the universe."

A New Era, A New Facility
While building on its distinguished history, the new California Academy of Sciences will explore the state of the world today and look towards the planet's future: The Steinhart Aquarium will add new exhibits of living creatures throughout the natural history museum galleries to explore the interplay between life on land and life in the ocean. The Morrison Planetarium will incorporate new technologies for immersive educational experiences, while examining the origin of life in the universe. The natural history museum will focus on the new understanding of the diversity of life and the critical need to protect it, spurring visitors toward greater knowledge and responsibility.

As the only institution in the nation that comprises an aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum under one roof, the California Academy of Sciences is uniquely positioned to help reveal the relationships between the living world and global forces, as well as the interconnection of our own planet to the universe. The new facility will integrate the Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium, and natural history museum, creating a more accurate reflection of the magnificent complexity of the natural world and the multidisciplinary nature of science. New exhibition and education programming will introduce conservation and human impact issues, revealing possible future implications of human activities, as well as positive steps for visitor involvement.

New, flexible exhibition spaces in the Steinhart Aquarium and natural history museum will greatly enhance the Academy's opportunities to present large traveling exhibitions. A new auditorium and state-of-the-art classrooms will expand learning opportunities for young people and students.

As an expression of the Academy's mission to protect as well as explore the natural world, the new facility will be constructed as a "green building." More energy- and water-efficient systems will be put in place, and environmentally-friendly materials will be used in its design. The facility will serve as a model for efficient energy use and environmentally responsible physical systems in a public building.

"California is a trail-blazer in defining American culture and a leader in developing science-based industry from computer technology, to communications technology, to biotechnology," said Richard Bingham, chair of the Academy's Board of Trustees. "Most importantly, Californians are leaders in environmental issues and conservation - long before the rest of the country, we understood that it was absolutely critical to preserve the astonishing beauty and balance of nature. The Academy's new project grows directly out of this tradition and this commitment. The new Academy will strengthen the ability of our scientists to study the natural world, and will give our visitors the scientific understanding necessary to make decisions critical to their own lives and the future of our region, our state, our country, and our planet."

Community Involvement
Central to the Academy's mission is its service to the Bay Area community, and the Academy will continue to involve the public in the project throughout the phases of planning, design, and construction. Since planning for the project began, the institution has engaged its many constituencies visitors, neighbors, Academy Fellows, members, donors, volunteers, teachers, and children - and this on-going dialogue is helping to inform the project planning and development process. To deepen this synergy, the Academy of Sciences has created a Community Advisory Group comprised of community planners, advocates, and educators who will assist the Academy in inviting input from communities all over the City. The Academy will also establish a series of public forums to update members of the community on the progress of the project once designs are available.

Project Background
As early as 1989, when some of the 12 buildings that comprise the California Academy of Sciences were damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake, the Academy began plans to upgrade its aging facility. Even in these early planning stages, The Academy identified the following issues:

  • Public spaces were not to the standard of safety and excellence required to adequately serve the Bay Area community. Some areas, including Bird Hall, have had to remain closed to ensure public safety;
  • Exhibitions, while excellent for their day, had not kept pace with the changing nature of the science;
  • The Academy's 12 individual buildings, constructed in a piecemeal fashion beginning in 1916, lacked of a cohesive plan or infrastructure. This makes the Academy's current facility highly energy-inefficient and incapable of supporting the institution's growing research needs and education activities.

The project will retain and restore the Academy's historic buildings and retrofit these structures to ensure they are seismically safe.

About the Academy
Since 1853, the California Academy of Sciences has been dedicated to exploring, explaining, and protecting the natural world. The Academy is the oldest scientific institution in the West, founded after the California gold rush to survey the vast resources of California and beyond. Today it has grown to be one of the largest natural history museums in the country, and is the only one in the nation to include both an aquarium and planetarium. The Academy of Sciences provides scientific knowledge and expertise to visiting scientists, educators, adults, students, parents, children, conservation organizations, government leaders, and the media.

The Academy has a research staff of 30 Ph.D.-level scientists - supported by more than 100 Research and Field Associates and over 300 Fellows - who launch dozens of expeditions each year to explore the natural world and discover more about our planet. It has eight scientific research departments in the fields of anthropology, aquatic biology, botany, entomology, geology, herpetology, ichthyology, invertebrate zoology, mammalogy and ornithology. Its research collections, which are among the worlds largest, are of international renown and include more than 16 million examples of plants, animals, fossils and artifacts--essential tools for comparative studies on the history and future of the natural world.