Innovative Architecture and Exhibitions Will Educate and
Inspire Visitors about Science and the Natural World
Environmentally-Sensitive “Green” Building To Blend with Golden Gate Park

SAN FRANCISCO (July 10, 2002) -- The California Academy of Sciences today unveils plans for a comprehensive building project that re-conceives the traditional natural history museum and represents one of the most innovative museum transformations occurring today. The new Academy will combine inspiring new architecture with inventive exhibitions to provide visitors with eye-opening experiences of the natural world. At the same time, the new design integrates the Academy more sensitively into the natural environment of Golden Gate Park, enhancing the experience of all Academy and Park visitors. The facility will also employ energy-efficient, environmentally-sensitive building technologies to help set a new standard for sustainable architecture in civic buildings. With this project the Academy seeks to make science more accessible and engaging, and to inspire awe of the natural world and a deeper understanding of our place in it.

During the project, scheduled to begin in early 2004, the Academy will relocate to a temporary home in San Francisco. The Academy will present a range of outreach programs throughout the Bay Area during this period and will showcase many animals from the Steinhart Aquarium in the temporary facility. The estimated total cost of the project is $370 million including building, exhibition, and costs associated with the temporary facility, as well as funds to strengthen the Academy's endowment. The new Academy is slated to open in early 2008.

The Academy was one of the country’s first institutions dedicated to exploring and protecting the natural world and has shared its discoveries with the public since its founding in 1853. This major new initiative builds on the Academy’s distinguished history and will strengthen its mission to advance scientific literacy, awareness about the natural world, and conservation of natural resources.

“Since the California Academy of Sciences was established nearly 150 years ago, science has progressed exponentially,” said Executive Director and Curator Dr. Patrick Kociolek. “In the last few decades alone entire new fields of science have emerged that are having profound impacts on our lives. The Academy must keep pace in sharing this expanding body of knowledge with the public. We are reinventing the Academy, physically and programmatically, to provide an experience that is relevant and inspiring. We are also strengthening our commitment to explore, understand, and protect the natural world, and in so doing, helping to lead this region and the nation in meeting the challenge of ensuring the health of our planet.”

Renzo Piano Building Workshop and San Francisco-based Gordon H. Chong and Partners have worked with the Academy to create a design that responds to the institution’s needs, history, and setting. Internationally recognized for buildings that are respectful to their environment, Piano has developed a design plan that transforms the Academy’s twelve buildings, built over a period of eighty years without a master plan, into a unified facility.
The new design makes nature part of the building’s structure, with a variety of native plants growing on its “living” roof. The roof will echo the natural landscape around the Academy, undulating gently over the new Morrison Planetarium, Steinhart Aquarium, and other exhibition spaces, which will read as “hills” in the roofline. With its “green” architecture and environmentally-sensitive design, the new building is an expression of the Academy’s mission to understand and protect the natural world.

“We will create a building that has a gentle presence and a visual as well as functional dialogue with its natural surroundings,” commented Renzo Piano. “The design is shaped and informed by its context — the star of this building is nature. The architecture of the new Academy will tell the story of science and what it reveals about the living world that surrounds us.”

While celebrating the Academy’s history, the new facility will also ensure the museum complex is seismically safe. A number of the Academy’s buildings were damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and some public areas have remained closed since then. The new facility will also address the long-term wear and tear caused by over 100 million visitors passing through the museum since its opening in Golden Gate Park in 1916.

About the New Design

The architecture of the new Academy will be a physical and conceptual extension of its mission to tell the story of science. The new facility will incorporate environmentally responsible construction technology and recycled and renewable building materials into an aesthetically accomplished master plan. Inspired by imagery in nature, the design will integrate architecture with the natural landscape and embrace its environment. Expansive windows will offer visitors views into the Park, and for those outside, into the exhibitions. The new facility will provide more square footage, but on a smaller footprint than the existing buildings, by making more efficient use of interior space and employing underground construction.

“Renzo Piano's humanistic vision adds a wonderful dimension to the project," Dr. Kociolek adds. “He has masterfully combined sustainable architecture and innovative design with a sensitivity to Golden Gate Park that bespeaks the Academy’s commitment to environmental responsibility.”

A striking element of the new Academy will be its roof, which will slope gently over interior elements, linking different functional areas. The planetarium, rainforest, and aquarium exhibition spaces will be discernible from the exterior as elevations in the undulating roofline, evoking the hills behind the Academy. This “living” roof will include vegetation as an organic extension of the exhibition program, blending the building with its environment. A small portion of the roof will be accessible to visitors, with an exhibit space nestled between the landscaped areas. At the heart of the new building will be a partially glass enclosed piazza, which will be used year round.

The new Academy will provide enhanced exhibition and research areas as well as educational programs and visitor services. A new Naturalist Center will enable visitors to engage in hands-on activities in labs and classrooms, and a significantly enlarged early childhood education center will offer interactive learning for children under six. A new auditorium and modernized classrooms will allow the Academy to meet the growing demand for science-based learning opportunities for children and students.

Several design elements central to the Academy’s historic identity will be restored or evoked. These include the neo-classical beaux-arts structure that houses the dioramas of Africa Hall, the Steinhart Aquarium’s barrel-vaulted ceiling, columns, and the “Swamp,” and the classical structure of North American Hall.

About the New Exhibition Spaces

Unlike traditional museum exhibition organization – with separate halls devoted to single geographic areas or individual disciplines – the new Academy will feature flexible, integrated exhibition spaces that reflect the interconnections of the living world and the multidisciplinary nature of science. As the country’s only combined aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum, the California Academy of Sciences is uniquely positioned to make dynamic use of this innovative design strategy.

“With the creation of the new Academy, we have the rare opportunity — indeed responsibility — to re-conceive the institution from the ground up. We will combine 150 years of outstanding accomplishments in research and education with the best of 21st century science, technology, and design. There is virtually no other museum in the country that stands at such an extraordinary moment,” said W. Richard Bingham, Chair of the Academy's Board of Trustees.

The new Steinhart Aquarium will feature a creative layout, offering visitors unprecedented perspectives on the fascinating world of water. Immersive exhibition spaces will introduce visitors to the central role aquatic environments play in the living world. One of the Steinhart's distinctive new exhibits will be a 20 feet deep, 212,000 gallon living Philippine coral reef habitat. The Steinhart’s existing coral reef exhibit is a 6,000 gallon tank.

A dramatic, multi-level exhibition space will represent four rainforests, telling the story of the earth’s most diverse terrestrial habitats with the sights and sounds particular to each locale. Visitors will take a vertical journey through the different rainforest zones, from the forest floor to the upper canopy, seeing the unique insects, plants, reptiles and amphibians that live in these vital habitats.

A new Morrison Planetarium will offer visitors the opportunity to journey to the edges of space and time, tracing the beginnings of the universe and the evolution of the elements that comprise all life on earth. The state-of-the-art facility will reveal remarkable cosmic discoveries that scientists are making at a rate unprecedented in the history of science.

A critical part of the Academy's mission is sharing the excitement of scientific exploration and discovery. In the new Academy, visitors will have increased access to the Academy's research and collection areas. Views into the modernized research labs and diverse collections will allow visitors to look behind the scenes and see the Academy's scientific work as it takes place.

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