By Sean Ballent
The new California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park is a fusion of civilization and nature. Designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, it projects visions of optimism with great natural balance. This building is one of the great works of modern architecture, one that is literally infused with “green.” The building is the latest in a series of ambitious projects around the park’s Music Concourse; Herzog & de Meuron’s mesmerizing de Young Museum, enclosed in perforated copper, opened nearby three years ago.
The academy buildin’s steel frame sits lightly upon lush flora and is roofed by massive mounds of green plants, a reminder of the barbaric age of civilization. The main concourse of the building gives off a sense of weightlessness. The roof is held 36 feet high by rows of steal columns emphasized by an effortless wave-like canopy.
While standing in the glass lobby, you have a clear view to the park on the other side. Other views from the lobby include exhibition spaces, each with there own microclimate. The windowed glass roof of the academy’s lobby is supported by a system of cables and opens to views of the outside landscape in all four directions. One feature of these windows is to create a gentle breeze, allowing hot air to escape.
Gracing the space of the exhibition hall are two 90-foot-tall spheres. One houses a planetarium that sits just above a pool while the other embraces a rainforest its branches swallowing some of the curved ramp below. Above the spheres is the massive green roof. Skylights puncture the hollow mounds of earth allowing a wide array of natural light in the building and making the building one with nature.