California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco

Friday, August 17th, 2018 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Museums, Exhibitions

© Leonard G.

© Leonard G.

The California Academy of Sciences is a research institute and natural history museum in San Francisco, California, that is among the largest museums of natural history in the world, housing over 26 million specimens. The Academy began in 1853 as a learned society and still carries out a large amount of original research, with exhibits and education becoming significant endeavors of the museum during the 20th century. It is California’s oldest museum. Completely rebuilt in 2008, the building covers 400,000 square feet (37,000 square metres) and is among the newest natural history museums in the United States. The primary building in Golden Gate Park reopened on September 27, 2008.

The California Academy of Sciences, California’s oldest operating museum and research institution for the natural sciences, is governed by a forty-one member Board of Trustees who are nominated and chosen by the Academy Fellows. The Academy Fellows are, in turn, “[n]ominated by their colleagues and appointed by the Board of Trustees…the Fellows remain members of the Fellowship for life.” The Board of Trustees are then responsible for appointing the executive management of the Academy, who in turn are responsible for overseeing the Academy’s overall operation and the hiring of its other managers and employees.

Besides its world-renowned function as source of public science education through its museum, the California Academy of Sciences also operates the prestigious Institute for Biodiversity Science and Sustainability (IBSS) as its research arm, contributing some of the world’s most important research in the fields of taxonomy, phylogenetics, and biodiversity studies. Although one aspect of the IBSS is available for view by museum patrons at the science “project lab” exhibit, most of the research happens in laboratories and facilities “behind the scenes” and not observable by the public. In fact, unbeknownst to most patrons, research and administrative facilities occupy nearly 50% of the Academy’s physical structure.

Prior to being replaced, the old Academy building attracted approximately half a million visitors each year. As has been the case from the start, the main thrust of the exhibits is natural history. The main venues of the museum include the following:

  • Kimball Natural History Museum – generally encompasses the entire museum outside the planetarium, rainforest, and aquarium, and comprises Africa Hall (the Academy’s oldest running exhibit), the East Wing (which includes the Foulcault pendulum, also a carry-over exhibit from the older, pre-2008 renovation of the Academy), the West Wing (which currently houses several geophysical exhibits), the science “Project Lab” which features real, live scientists working on real, live research projects and who can be viewed doing their work from outside the lab by public visitors, as well as several smaller exhibits distributed throughout the remainder of the Academy building.
  • Morrison Planetarium – features the world’s largest completely digital planetarium dome measuring in at 27.5 metres (90 ft.) in diameter with a 23-metre (75-foot) diameter screen
  • Rainforests of the World – rainforest exhibit enclosed in a 90-foot (27 m) glass dome
  • Steinhart Aquarium – includes exhibits of coral reef, tidepool, and swamp habitats; as well as a colony of African penguins

Besides its famous museum programs, the California Academy of Sciences offers many educational and community outreach programs to members of the public at large.

Indoor Rainforest © TheDailyNathan/cc-by-sa-3.0 © Another Believer/cc-by-sa-3.0 © Another Believer/cc-by-sa-3.0 Steinhart  Aquarium - Part of the Philippine coral reef © WolfmanSF/cc-by-sa-4.0 Steinhart  Aquarium - One of the smaller coral exhibits in the aquarium © WolfmanSF/cc-by-sa-4.0 © Leonard G.
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Steinhart Aquarium - One of the smaller coral exhibits in the aquarium © WolfmanSF/cc-by-sa-4.0
Academy scientists, under the Academy’s Institute for Biodiversity Science and Sustainability, conduct systematic and conservation research in several different fields, including anthropology, marine biology, botany, entomology, herpetology, ichthyology, invertebrate zoology, mammalogy, ornithology, geology, and paleontology. There also is a strong emphasis on environmental concerns, with all the various departments collaborating closely to focus on systematic biology and biodiversity. Academy researchers study life around the world: a 2011 expedition to the Philippines discovered an estimated 300 species new to science. The Academy publishes the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences, as well as Occasional Papers, Memoirs, and Special Publications.

The Academy buildings were damaged significantly in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Subsequently, the Bird Hall building was closed to ensure public safety. The inadequately engineered Steinhart Aquarium suffered dramatic seismic damage from the 1989 earthquake, as well. As plans were made to repair the damage and make the buildings seismically stable, it was realized that a considerable amount of work would be needed to bring the buildings up to modern standards. This led to the idea of giving the Academy a complete overhaul, thus motivating the closing of the main site. Construction began on the new $500 million building on September 12, 2005, while the exhibits were moved to 875 Howard Street for a temporary museum. The Academy reopened with a free day on September 27, 2008. For most of the day the line for admittance was over a mile (nearly two kilometers) long, and although over 15,000 people were admitted, several thousands more had to be turned away.

The design architect for the museum replacement project was Renzo Piano. His design was awarded the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Award for Excellence for the Americas region in 2008, as well as the Holcim Award Silver for sustainable construction projects in the North America region in 2005. One critic praised the building as a “blazingly uncynical embrace of the Enlightenment values of truth and reason”, and a “comforting reminder of the civilizing function of great art in a barbaric age”. The new building is at the forefront of environmentally friendly design, in keeping with the Academy’s focus on ecological concerns and environmental sustainability. It received Platinum certification under the LEED program. As a result of its environmentally friendly design and other unique features, this project was featured on the Discovery Channel Extreme Engineering series in 2006 and on the National Geographic Channel Man-Made series in July 2008. The new building includes an array of environmentally friendly features:

  • Produces 50 percent less waste water than previously
  • Recycles rainwater for irrigation
  • Uses 60,000 photovoltaic cells
  • Supports a green roof with an area of 2.5 acres (1.0 hectare)
  • Uses natural lighting in 90 percent of occupied spaces
  • Was constructed of over 20,000 cubic yards (15,000 m3) of recycled concrete
  • Construction includes 11 million pounds (5,000 t) of recycled steel
  • Wall insulation made from scraps of recycled denim

The California Academy of Science green roof has several environmentally friendly features, as well as sustainable design. Renzo Piano was inspired by seven major hills of San Francisco, which typically refers to: Telegraph Hill, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Rincon Hill, Mount Sutro, Twin Peaks and Mount Davidson. The living green roof was planted with 1.7 million California native plants. The museum’s central piazza lies beneath a massive glass ceiling in the roof, which opens to allow cool night air to flow into the building below; by using this kind of natural ventilation instead of air conditioning to regulate interior temperature, the building becomes more energy efficient. Renzo Piano and SWA Group won the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Award in design in 2009.

Read more on California Academy of Sciences and Wikipedia California Academy of Sciences (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.



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