Not yet a year old, the new home of the California Academy of Sciences is
already a must-see San Francisco landmark.
The academy is a remarkable merger of architecture and purpose, a
green-friendly structure located in Golden Gate Park offering a home for a
natural-history museum, planetarium, and aquarium as well as a thriving
scientific research enterprise—all devoted to advancing understanding of
The academy, which was founded in 1853, is an international leader in
scientific research about the natural world. In 1891 it opened the Kimball
Natural History Museum to showcase its specimens (although it had some small
public exhibits prior to this), and in 1923 it opened Stein-hart Aquarium; the
Morrison Planetarium was opened in 1952.
The new structure, designed by internationally renowned architect Renzo
Piano, houses these landmark attractions plus many new ones. It opened to the
public last September and has quickly become a popular destination.
One of 10 "green building" projects of the San Francisco
Department of the Environment, the new academy is part of a city initiative to
develop models for workable, sustainable, public architecture.
One of the more distinctive features of the new academy is the 2.5-acre"
living roof"—a natural-grass roof with a landscape of
rolling hills to mimic the topography of San Francisco itself.
"With the new academy, we are creating a museum that is visually and
functionally linked to its natural surroundings, metaphorically lifting up a
piece of the park and putting a building underneath," said Piano in a
statement released at the building's opening. "Through sustainable
architecture and innovative design, we are adding a vital new element to
Golden Gate Park and expressing the academy's dedication to environmental
APA members visiting the academy during APA's annual meeting will want to
note that on Tuesday, May 19, Academy Fellow Sarah Hardy, Ph.D., will present
the lecture "Darwin and the Descent of the Emotionally Modern Man"
at 7 p.m. Entry is for the lecture only; the rest of the academy will be
closed. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, and can be purchased by
phone at (800) 794-7576 or online at<www.calacademy.org/events>.
Every third Wednesday of the month addmission to the academy is free
between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., so consider visiting on Wednesday, May 20. On
Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., the academy sponsors"
NightLife," during which visitors can explore the exhibits after
hours while enjoying music and a cash bar. No one under 18 is permitted, and
valid identification is required for entry. Tickets are
Regular exhibits include an impressive line-up of attractions. These are
just some of them:
African Hall: "The original African Hall opened at the academy
in 1934 and quickly became one of San Francisco's best-loved
attractions," according to the academy's Web site. "To preserve a
piece of its history, the academy saved two of the exterior walls of the
original hall and recreated the original dioramas in meticulous
Early Explorers Cove: Infants, toddlers, and their caregivers should
be intrigued by this introduction to the natural world.
Morrison Planetarium: Every hour on the half-hour from 11:30 a.m. to
4:30 p.m. there is a showing of "Fragile Planet," a half-hour film
narrated by actress Sigourney Weaver. Tickets are handed out on a first-come,
first-served basis for this very popular attraction.
Naturalist Center: The library and research collections are housed
here, including some 210,000 books, 25,000 maps, 300,000 images, and 20
million animals, plants, minerals, and cultural artifacts.
Water Planet: "Silvery, sculpted walls and dramatic lighting
create a media-rich interactive exhibit about the critical relationship
between water and life," according to the academy. "Exhibit
favorites include leafy and weedy sea dragons, medicinal leeches, Australian
lungfish, and giant salamanders."
Admission to the California Academy of Sciences is $24.95 for adults,
$19.95 for youth aged 12 to 17 and seniors aged 65 and over, and $14.95 for
children aged 7 to 11. Children under age 7 are admitted free. Prices include
access to all components of the academy experience, including all museum
exhibits, aquarium displays, planetarium shows, and the living rainforest. A
discount of $3 per person is available for taking public transportation to the
More information is posted at<www.calacademy.org>.▪