World’s Greenest Museum

The “living roof” of the new California Academy of Sciences Museum, by Tim Griffith

The California Academy of Sciences will reopen this weekend as the greenest museum in the world. Located in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the revamped, gargantuan CAS is an aquarium, digital planetarium, natural history museum, and four-story rain forest all rolled into one.

The U.S. Green Building Council is on course to award CAS its highest mark of sustainability, the LEED Platinum ranking. CAS is green on many levels: it’s insulated by nontoxic, second-hand blue jeans; it’s topped off with a 2.5-acre “living roof” stocked with 1.7 million native California species (which will absorb about 2 million gallons of rainwater annually); its pair of celebrity chef-led restaurants feature organic produce and local seafood; its glorious glass piazza uses an automated ventilation system to let in cool breezes from the park and refresh the building; it’s set to consume 30 percent less energy than required by federal codes; and its 60,000 photovoltaic cells will use solar power to produce between 5 and 10 percent of the museum’s energy needs.

Designed by Italian architectural genius Renzo Piano, the $488-million CAS sees its mission as investigating two principal scientific questions: How did life evolve on Earth, and how will it survive? While its exhibits seek to answer the first of these provocative questions, using conventional dioramas coupled with multidimensional exhibits featuring thousands of living species, the building’s very design offers a reply to the second. It’s innovative, experimental, and oh-so amazing.

A friend of IT was lucky enough to attend a press preview two weekends ago and tells us CAS is “amazing, spectacular, and incredible.” She particularly enjoyed the aquarium and its jellyfish and befriended two alligators. She comments that she never before realized alligators have such intricate hands.

CAS is free this Saturday and hours are extended both Saturday and Sunday. There will be music and dance performances and sustainably-sourced snacks. If you’re in San Francisco this weekend, check out CAS and let us know what you think. Maybe you’ll even be able to see Pierre the South African penguin who, due to old age stripping him of his insulating feathers, now dons a custom wet suit (you can see a ridiculously cute video about him here). If you’ll be nowhere near San Francisco this weekend, check out CAS’s website for a virtual opening. They have tons of making-of videos and profiles of some of their impressive scientists and explorers.

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California Academy of Sciences: 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA 94118; +1 415 379 8000.

Photos: Above, The 2.5 acre living roof is planted with nine native species that provide habitat for local wildlife. Below, A winding ramp allows visitors to explore different levels of the rain forest. A 100,000-gallon Forest Flooded tank graces the floor of the museum. By Tim Griffith.

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