If You’re Going To San Francisco, Be Sure To See Some Flowers On The Roof
The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, California, was nearly 10 years and $500 million dollars in the making. The new Academy is a masterpiece in sustainable architecture, blending 2.5 acres of an undulating green roof seamlessly into the Golden Gate Park’s natural setting. Filled with hundreds of innovative exhibits and thousands of extraordinary plants and animals it is the brain-child of renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano.
Beneath the roof, this new Academy contains multiple venues, including a natural-history museum, a planetarium, a 4-story rain forest with free-flying birds, a coral reef inhabited by 4,000 fish, and an aquarium filled with saltwater pumped in from the Pacific Ocean, a new 3D theater, a lecture hall, a Naturalist Center, two restaurants, an adjacent garden and aviary, a roof terrace, and an Academy store. The museum is not just a green structure, but also an amazing green hub that gives visitors a wonderful idea of what a green tomorrow will be like.
The new building also houses the Academy science labs and administrative offices, including an extensive library and scientific archive consisting of more than 20 million specimens.
From the basement to the roof of the Academy’s new building, the choices behind each element of construction reflect a commitment to energy efficiency, reducing the carbon footprint, and preserving the natural world. This commitment to sustainability extends to all facets of the facility starting with the bike racks and rechargeable vehicle stations outside the building.
Not only does the green rooftop canopy visually connect the building to the park landscape, but it also provides significant gains in heating and cooling efficiency. The six inches of soil substrate on the roof act as natural insulation, and every year will keep approximately 3.6 million gallons of rainwater from becoming stormwater. The steep slopes of the roof also act as a natural ventilation system, funneling cool air into the open-air plaza on sunny days. The skylights perform as both ambient light sources and a cooling system, automatically opening on warm days to vent hot air from the building.
The expansive, floor-to-ceiling walls of glass will enable 90% of the building’s interior offices to use lighting from natural sources.
The glass used in the perimeter walls surrounding the public floor were specially constructed with low-iron content. This feature removes a common green tint, providing exceptional clarity. From almost any point inside the museum, visitors will be able to see the park outside in all its seasonal colors.
The building will also feature operable office windows that employees can open and close as needed. On the main guest floor, an automated ventilation system takes advantage of the natural air currents of Golden Gate Park to regulate the temperature of the building. Throughout the day and night, louvers will open and close, providing fresh air and cooling the building thereby reducing the dependence on traditional HVAC systems and chemical coolants.
Skylights, providing natural light to the rainforest and aquarium, are designed to open and close automatically. As hot air rises throughout the day, the skylights will open to allow hot air out from the top of the Academy while louvers below draw in cool air to the lower floors without the need for huge fans or chemical coolants.
Warm air rises. A traditional forced-air heating system for the 35-foot-high public spaces in the museum would be wasteful in the extreme. Instead, the Academy is installing a radiant heating system in the museum’s floors. Tubes embedded in the concrete floor will carry hot water that warms the floor. The proximity of the heat to the people who need it will reduce the building’s energy need by an estimated 10% annually.
The Academy, rather than using typical fiberglass or foam-based insulation, chose to use a type of thick cotton batting made from recycled blue jeans. This material provides an organic alternative to formaldehyde-laden insulation materials. Recycled denim insulation holds more heat and absorbs sound better than spun fiberglass insulation. It is also safer to handle. Even when denim insulation is treated with fire retardants and fungicides to prevent mildew, it is still easier to work with and doesn’t require installers to wear protective clothing or respirators.
Surrounding the Living Roof is a large glass canopy with a decorative band of 60,000 photovoltaic cells. These solar panels will generate approximately 213,000 kilowatt-hours of energy per year and provide up to 10% of the Academy’s electricity need. The use of solar power will prevent the release of 405,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emission into the air.
Further more 90% of all demolition materials were recycled, 95% of all steel from recycled sources, 30% less energy consumption than federal code requirement, and 32,000 tons of sand from foundation excavation applied to dune restoration projects in San Francisco.
U.S. Green Building Council awarded the Academy a Platinum-level LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. Points for the coveted LEED certificate are awarded in five key areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality. The Academy is now the largest public Platinum-rated building in the world, and also the world’s greenest museum with a total score of 54 points.
If I ever get the chance to visit San Francisco, the Academy is the first on my list to see!
…. As the green future unfolds!
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