Image of architect Renzo Piano

Three questions with Renzo Piano, Pritzker Architecture Prize winner and designer of the Academy's green building. 

What was your inspiration for the new Academy’s design?

The first idea, from the first sketch, was really the roof. The idea was to make the roof of the new museum like a piece of the park flying. I also wanted to play with natural light, and with transparency, so that from the inside of the museum you can see where you are. The chance to be in the center of Golden Gate Park is immense, so you have to take advantage of that.

You’ve designed a number of art museums, but this was your first science museum. Did you approach this museum project differently?

Architecture is about building emotion and telling stories. A natural science museum should tell a story about energy, about life, about exploration, about wonder. I love curiosity; I love to put my nose into everything. And the idea that a group of scientists here spend their life searching for new species around the world—it touched my imagination. What a fantastic role—to design a natural science museum for this Academy.

Why did you feel it was important to build sustainably?

The building is all about nature, so it has to be sustainable. Saving energy is part of the story. Today, we have all become aware that the Earth is fragile. I think in this century, the most inspiring element for architecture will be the fragility of Earth. It’s not about morality—it’s about necessity. Buildings have to become increasingly clever in the way they use energy, and I hope this will be visible when you walk into the new Academy.

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A Rooftop Like No Other

A Rooftop Like No Other

It all began with architect Renzo Piano’s idea to "lift up a piece of the park and put a building underneath," and our 2.5-acre Living Roof is one of the most remarkable places to experience how his vision came to life.


View of the Living Roof with wildflowers

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Design and construction of the Academy's new home required nearly a decade's worth of planning and other work—though you wouldn't know it from this 1.5-minute time-lapse!