Press Release

Stephanie Stone (415) 379-5121

Andrew Ng (415) 379-5123

Project will redefine role of natural history museums in 21st century
"Green" facility will be the largest public LEED-certified building in the world

SAN FRANCISCO (May 24, 2007) — One of the world's most innovative museum building programs—a record-setting, sustainable new home for the California Academy of Sciences—is nearing completion in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Expected to be the first museum to earn a LEED Platinum certification, the new Academy will be topped with a 2.5-acre living roof and will employ a wide range of energy-saving materials and technologies. Designed by Pritzker Prize winner Renzo Piano, the new building will stand as an embodiment of the Academy's mission to explore, explain and protect the natural world. Construction of the new facility, which began in September of 2005, is scheduled to reach completion by the end of October of this year. Over the next few months, the plants will be installed on the living roof (installation begins this week), the curved glass will be installed in the rainforest dome and over the piazza, and the concrete finishing slabs will be poured for the floors. The museum will then spend a year building out the new exhibits and moving the live animals and research specimens into their new home. The new Academy will open to the public in October of 2008.

The California Academy of Sciences is one of the world's preeminent natural history museums and is an international leader in scientific research about the natural world. Founded in 1853 as the first scientific institution in the West, the Academy is now home to the Kimball Natural History Museum, Steinhart Aquarium and Morrison Planetarium, as well as eight research departments and over 20 million scientific specimens. This major new initiative builds on the Academy's distinguished history and deepens its commitment to advancing scientific literacy, engaging the public, and documenting and conserving Earth's natural resources.

"Science is more influential and relevant to our daily lives than ever before, and natural history museums can and must deal head-on with the issues of the 21st century," said Academy Executive Director Dr. Gregory Farrington. "Our goal is to create a new facility that will not only hold powerful exhibits but serve as one itself, inspiring visitors to conserve natural resources and help sustain the diversity of life on Earth."

Design Driven by Nature

The Renzo Piano Building Workshop, in collaboration with local firm Chong Partners, worked with the Academy to create a design that grows out of the institution's mission, history, and setting. The new design unifies the Academy's original array of twelve buildings, which were built over eight decades, into a single modern landmark that places a visual and intellectual emphasis on the natural world.

"With the new Academy, we are creating a museum that is visually and functionally linked to its natural surroundings, metaphorically lifting up a piece of the park and putting a building underneath," says architect Renzo Piano. "We are excited to collaborate with the Academy on a project in which design and mission are so seamlessly integrated. Through sustainable architecture and innovative design we are adding a vital new element to Golden Gate Park and expressing the Academy's dedication to environmental responsibility."

Piano's goal was to create a sense of transparency and connectedness between the building and the park through both a careful selection of materials and a thoughtful arrangement of space. Glass is used extensively in the exterior walls, allowing visitors to look through the museum to the surrounding green space of the park along both the east-west axis and the north-south axis of the building. The glass, which is manufactured in Germany, is famous for its especially clear composition. To enhance the open, airy feeling created by the glass, Piano designed the central support columns to be extremely slender. A series of carefully configured cables will prevent these slim columns from bending. The concrete for the walls and floors will remain untreated, continuing the emphasis on natural materials.

"Museums are not usually transparent," says Piano. "They are opaque, they are closed. They are like a kingdom of darkness, and you are trapped inside. You don't see where you are. But here we are in the middle of a beautiful park, Golden Gate Park, so you want to look out and know where you are."

The building will be topped by a colorful living roof – a 2.5 acre expanse of native California plants and wildflowers that will create a new link in the ecological corridor for wildlife. Steep undulations in the roofline will roll over the Academy's domed planetarium, rainforest, and aquarium exhibits, echoing the topography of the building’s setting and evoking the interdependence of biological and earth systems.

Exhibitions and educational programs inside the building will reinforce this message. As the country's only combined aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, and research institution, the new Academy is uniquely positioned to highlight the interconnectedness of the living world and the multidisciplinary nature of modern science.

The new Academy site is located directly across from the new de Young museum, which opened in October 2005 and was designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. The architectural dialogue between the two buildings and their unique responses to the environment of Golden Gate Park furthers San Francisco's growing role in supporting groundbreaking architecture and design.

Setting a New Standard for Sustainable Architecture

The new Academy is one of ten pilot "green building" projects of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, part of a vanguard initiative to develop models for workable, sustainable public architecture. The new Academy will optimize use of resources, minimize environmental impacts, and serve as an educational model by demonstrating how humans can live and work in environmentally-responsible ways. The new facility will integrate architecture and landscape, and help set a new standard for energy efficiency and environmentally responsible engineering systems in a public, architecturally distinguished building.

In Piano's design, the environmentally sensitive components of the building will be featured, rather than hidden. The living roof, which will reduce storm water runoff by up to 2 million gallons of water per year, will include an observation deck, allowing visitors to admire the rooftop wildlife haven and learn about the importance of water conservation. The roof will be bordered by a glass canopy containing nearly 60,000 photo voltaic cells, which will produce over 5 percent of the Academy's annual energy needs and prevent the release of over 405,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions each year. These photo voltaic cells will be clearly visible in the glass canopy, providing both shade and visual interest for the visitors below.

There are varying shades of green as measured by the U.S. Green Building Council through its LEED™ (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system. The LEED rating system is a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for evaluating high-performance, sustainable buildings. Through all aspects of design and construction, the Academy will strive to achieve the highest possible rating: LEED platinum.

In recognition of this commitment to sustainable "green" design, the Academy project was selected as the North American winner of the silver Holcim Award for Sustainable Construction in September 2005. The competition, organized by the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction in collaboration with five of the world's leading technical universities, promotes sustainable approaches to the built environment. Globally, more than 1,500 projects from 118 countries were submitted for consideration. The Academy is the sole U.S. winner of a top-level Holcim Award.

The Academy was also awarded the EPA's regional 2006 Environmental Award in recognition of the new building's sustainable design. The EPA received more than 160 nominations in 2006; the Academy of Sciences was one of 39 recipients to be selected in this very elite group of environmental champions.

Public Art Installations by Maya Lin

Artist Maya Lin has been selected by the Academy and the San Francisco Arts Commission to create two public art installations within or around the new Academy in a publicly-accessible space. The installations will inspire contemplation about the natural world, facilitate the discovery and celebration of natural wonders, and acknowledge the Academy's setting within Golden Gate Park. Lin, who is trained in both art and architecture, is drawing on the Academy's mission and the building's design for inspiration as she conceives her new work. Designs for the installation are scheduled to be unveiled in January of 2008.

About the California Academy of Sciences
Since 1853, the California Academy of Sciences has been dedicated to exploring, explaining, and protecting the natural world. The Academy – which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2003 – is the oldest scientific institution in the West and one of the oldest in the nation. Today, it is one of the largest natural history museums in the country, and it is the only one in the nation to include both an aquarium and planetarium. 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. It houses eight scientific research departments in the fields of anthropology, aquatic biology, botany, entomology, herpetology, ichthyology, invertebrate zoology & geology, and ornithology & mammalogy. The Academy's research collections, which are among the world's largest, include more than 20 million specimens—essential tools for comparative studies on the history and future of the natural world.

About the Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Renzo Piano has emerged as the leading architect for museum projects in the United States. In addition to his design for the California Academy of Sciences, Piano is currently working on designs for the Art Institute of Chicago, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, and the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. The firm has also been selected to design the New York Times Building, a new satellite campus for New York's Columbia University, and the London Tower Bridge. Among his completed projects are the Menil Collection Museum in Houston, the Beyeler Foundation Museum in Basel, the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, the Kansai Air Terminal in Osaka, and the reconstruction of the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. His buildings show a sensitivity for the design, habitability, and sustainability of structures. Renzo Piano is a winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize – considered to be the architectural equivalent of the Nobel Prize.


The California Academy of Sciences, including Steinhart Aquarium and the Natural History Museum, is open to the public at 875 Howard Street. Admission to the Academy at 875 Howard Street is: $10 for adults; $6.50 for youth ages 12 to 17, Seniors ages 65+ and students with valid ID; $2 for children ages four to 11; and free for children ages three and younger. Hours are 10 am to 5 pm every day. (415) 379-8000.

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The California Academy of Sciences is home to Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium and the Kimball Natural History Museum. The Academy is in the midst of an extensive rebuilding project in Golden Gate Park. Pritzker prize-winning architect Renzo Piano is designing the new Academy, which is scheduled to open on September 27, 2008. (415) 379-8000.

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