SAN FRANCISCO (October 8, 2008)—The new California Academy of Sciences is now officially the greenest museum in the world. On October 7, 2008, the U.S. Green Building Council issued its formal rating for the new Academy, awarding the Renzo Piano-designed facility with its highest possible certification: LEED Platinum. The new building, which houses an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, and world-class research and education programs under one living roof, stands as an embodiment of the Academy's mission to explore, explain, and protect the natural world. It is now the largest public Platinum-rated building in the world, and with a total score of 54 points, it is also the world's most sustainable museum building.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system is a voluntary, consensus-based standard for evaluating high-performance, sustainable buildings. By earning points across a variety of sustainability categories, buildings can earn a basic certification (at least 26 points), a Silver rating (at least 33 points), a Gold rating (at least 39 points) or a Platinum rating (at least 52 points). The new home for the California Academy of Sciences was evaluated and earned points across six different categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design process. Based on a wide range of green building technologies and strategies, including recycled building materials, natural ventilation, solar energy generation, and an iconic living roof, it was awarded a total of 54 points, exceeding the threshold for a Platinum certification.

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, it is the only institution in the world to house an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, and scientific research program under one roof. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the Academy's home in Golden Gate Park but came with a silver lining: the opportunity to reinvent the facility from the ground up. After nearly a decade of planning and the largest cultural fundraising effort in San Francisco history, the new Academy opened to the public on September 27. 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.

"When the Academy was faced with the need to rebuild, the institution's visionary Board of Trustees committed to building a new home that was as sustainable as possible," said Academy Executive Director Dr. Gregory Farrington. "Our goal was to create a new facility that would 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."

Green Building Features

Employing a wide range of green technologies and strategies, the new Academy will use about 30-35% less energy than required by standard building code. It will also generate a portion of its own energy, conserve water, and create new habitat for local wildlife. Exhibit signage throughout the building highlights these green features.

Heat and Humidity

  • Radiant floor heating reduces energy needs by 5-10%.
  • Heat recovery systems capture and utilize heat produced by HVAC equipment, reducing heating energy use.
  • The planted roof provides a superior thermal insulating layer for the building, reducing energy needs for air-conditioning.
  • High-performance glass is used throughout the building, reducing standard levels of heat absorption and decreasing the cooling load.

Natural Light and Ventilation

  • At least 90% of regularly occupied spaces have access to daylight and outside views, reducing energy use and heat gain from electric lighting.
  • The undulating roofline draws cool air into the open piazza at the center of the building, naturally ventilating the surrounding exhibit spaces. Skylights in the roof automatically open and close to vent hot air out through the tops of the domes.
  • The skylights are strategically placed to allow natural sunlight to reach the living rainforest and coral reef.
  • Motorized windows automatically open and shut to allow cool air into the building. Operable windows are also employed in staff offices.

Renewable Energy

  • A solar canopy around the perimeter of the roof containing 60,000 photovoltaic cells will supply almost 213,000 kWh of clean energy per year (at least 5% of the Academy's standard building energy needs), and prevent the release of more than 405,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions annually.
  • The multi-crystalline cells are the most energy efficient cells on the market, achieving at least 20% efficiency.
  • In addition to on-site photovoltaics, the Academy has offset 1,350 MWh of its energy needs by purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates, which are sourced from California solar projects and help support the renewable energy industry.
  • Sensor faucets in the bathrooms will charge themselves with each use. Flowing water causes an internal turbine to generate power and charge the battery pack.

Water Efficiency

  • By absorbing rainwater, the new Academy's living roof will prevent up to 3.6 million gallons of runoff from carrying pollutants into the ecosystem each year (about 98% of all storm water).
  • Reclaimed water from the City of San Francisco will be used to flush the toilets, reducing the use of potable water for wastewater conveyance by 90%.
  • Low-flow fixtures have reduced overall potable water use by 40%.
  • Nitrate wastes in live animal exhibits are purified with natural systems, ensuring that aquarium water can be recycled.

Recycled Building Materials

  • Over 90% of the demolition waste from the old Academy was recycled. 9,000 tons of concrete were reused in Richmond roadway construction, 12,000 tons of steel were recycled and went to Schnitzer Steel, and 120 tons of greenwaste were recycled on site.
  • At least 50% of the wood in the new Academy was sustainably harvested and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
  • Recycled steel was used for 100% of the building's structural steel. The steel includes 95% recycled content.
  • The insulation in the building's walls is made from recycled blue jeans. The product contains 85% post-industrial recycled content and uses cotton, a rapidly renewable resource, as one of its main ingredients.
  • All concrete contains 30% fly ash, a by-product of coal-fired power plants. It also contains 20% slag, a waste product from metal smelting. This use of recycled content prevented the release of more than 5,375 tons of carbon emissions.

The Living Roof

  • A new link in an ecological corridor for wildlife, the new Academy's living roof is planted with nine native California species. The planted area measures 2.5 acres; it is now the largest concentration of native vegetation in San Francisco.
  • Approximately 1.7 million plants blanket the living roof.
  • The native plants will provide habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. Beach strawberries (Fragaria chiloensis) produce berries that attract native birds, self heal (Prunella vulgaris) bears large tubular flowers that attract hummingbirds and bumble bees, sea pink (Armeria maritime) produces pom-pom-like flowers favored by moths and butterflies, stonecrop (Sedum spathulitholium) produces nectar for the threatened San Bruno elfin butterfly, tidy tips (Layia platyglossa) attract parasitic wasps and pirate bugs that feed on pest insects, miniature lupine (Lupinus bicolor) and California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) provide nectar for bees and butterflies, California plantain (Plantago erecta) hosts a variety of butterfly larvae, and the bright yellow flowers produced by Goldfield plants (Lasthenia californica) attract a wide variety of beneficial native insects.


  • The new Academy provides secure bicycle parking at the front and back entrances, as well as an electric car recharging station at the loading dock. Staff members are compensated for using public transportation.
  • Local materials and products manufactured within 500 miles of the Academy will account for at least 20% of building materials. This reduces transportation impacts and supports the regional economy.

Project Team Members

Architecture: Renzo Piano Building Workshop (Genoa, Italy) in collaboration with Stantec Architecture (formerly Chong Partners Architecture) (San Francisco, CA). Engineering and Sustainability Consulting: Arup. Living Roof: Rana Creek. Landscape Architecture: SWA Group. General Contractor: Webcor Builders. Project Management: DRY and Associates.



The California Academy of Sciences is home to Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium, Kimball Natural History Museum, and world-class research and education programs—all under one living roof. Admission to the Academy is: $29.95 for adults; $24.95 for youth ages 12 to 17, Seniors ages 65+ and students with valid ID; $19.95 for children ages 4 to 11; and free for children ages 3 and younger. Admission fees include all exhibits and shows. Hours are 9:30 am - 5 pm Monday - Saturday, and 11 am - 5 pm on Sunday. During peak periods, including some holiday weekends, an admission surcharge and extended hours may apply. Visit www.calacademy.org or call (415) 379-8000 for more information. 

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