CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES – Opens Wednesday, September 27th

Architect Renzo Piano’s innovative new home for The City’s Aquarium, Planetarium, Natural History Museum,
and Research Institution re-defines State-of-the-Art

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

One of the world’s most innovative museum building programs – a record-setting, sustainable new home for the California Academy of Sciences – is nearing completion in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Expected to be the first museum to earn a LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. GREEN BUILDING COUNCIL, the new Academy will be topped with a 2.5-acre living roof and will employ a wide range of energy-saving materials and technologies. Designed by Pulitzer Prize winner Renzo Piano, the new building will stand as an embodiment of the Academy’s mission to explore, explain and protect the natural world. The Academy’s staff, animals, and research collections embarked on their “Great Migration” back to Golden Gate Park. The most monumental move ever undertaken by a museum, the migration includes 38,000 live animals and over 20 million research specimens. Everything from a colony of African penguins and a 70+ year-old Australian lungfish to 700,000 delicately pinned butterflies and an 80+ foot-long blue whale skeleton carefully shuttled across The City into the new building. The Academy opens to the public on September 27th. To purchase tickets on-line: CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

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Getting ready for the close-ups

The California Academy of Sciences is one of the world’s preeminent natural history museums and is an international leader in scientific research about the natural world. Founded in 1853 as the first scientific institution in the West, the Academy is now home to the Kimball Natural History Museum, Steinhart Aquarium and Morrison Planetarium. This major new initiative builds on the Academy’s distinguished history and deepens its commitment to advancing scientific literacy, engaging the public, and documenting and conserving Earth’s natural resources.

“Science is more influential and relevant to our daily lives than ever before, and natural history museums can and must deal head-on with the issues of the 21st century,” said Academy Executive Director Dr. Gregory Farrington. “Our goal is to create a new facility that will not only hold powerful exhibits but serve as one itself, inspiring visitors to conserve natural resources and help sustain the diversity of life on Earth.”

The Renzo Piano Building Workshop, in collaboration with local firm STANTEC ARCHITECTURE (formerly Chong Partners), worked with the Academy to create a design that grows out of the institution’s mission, history, and setting. The new design unifies the Academy’s original array of twelve buildings, which were built over eight decades, into a single modern landmark that places a visual and intellectual emphasis on the natural world.

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SEÁN MARTINFIELD with NATALIE ZAVALLOS (Academy Security) & RENZO PIANO, Architect. Photo, Caroline Kopp.

“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,” says architect Renzo Piano. “We are excited to collaborate with the Academy on a project in which design and mission are so seamlessly integrated. 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 responsibility.”

Piano’s goal was to create a sense of transparency and connectedness between the building and the park through both a careful selection of materials and a thoughtful arrangement of space. Glass is used extensively in the exterior walls, allowing visitors to look through the museum to the surrounding green space of the park along both the east-west axis and the north-south axis of the building. The glass, which is manufactured in Germany, is famous for its especially clear composition. To enhance the open, airy feeling created by the glass, Piano designed the central support columns to be extremely slender. A series of carefully configured cables will prevent these slim columns from bending. The concrete for the walls and floors will remain untreated, continuing the emphasis on natural materials.

“Museums are not usually transparent,” says Piano. “They are opaque, they are closed. They are like a kingdom of darkness, and you are trapped inside. You don’t see where you are. But here we are in the middle of a beautiful park, Golden Gate Park, so you want to look out and know where you are.”

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Seán and companion – CA Academy of Sciences launches opening September 27th

The building is topped by a colorful living roof – a 2.5 acre expanse of native California plants and wildflowers that will create a new link in the ecological corridor for wildlife. Steep undulations in the roofline roll over the Academy’s domed planetarium, rainforest, and aquarium exhibits, echoing the topography of the building’s setting and evoking the interdependence of biological and earth systems.

Exhibitions and educational programs inside the building will reinforce this message. As the country’s only combined aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, and research institution, the new Academy is uniquely positioned to highlight the interconnectedness of the living world and the multidisciplinary nature of modern science.

The new Academy site is located directly across from the new de Young museum, which opened in October 2005 and was designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. The architectural dialogue between the two buildings and their unique responses to the environment of Golden Gate Park furthers San Francisco’s growing role in supporting groundbreaking architecture and design.

The new Academy is one of ten pilot “green building” projects of the SAN FRANCISCO DEPARTMENT OF THE ENVIRONMENT, part of a vanguard initiative to develop models for workable, sustainable public architecture. The new Academy will optimize use of resources, minimize environmental impacts, and serve as an educational model by demonstrating how humans can live and work in environmentally-responsible ways. The new facility will integrate architecture and landscape, and help set a new standard for energy efficiency and environmentally responsible engineering systems in a public, architecturally distinguished building.

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Featuring A Cast Of Thousands

In Piano’s design, the environmentally sensitive components of the building will be featured, rather than hidden. The living roof, which will reduce storm water runoff by up to 2 million gallons of water per year, includes an observation deck, allowing visitors to admire the rooftop wildlife haven and learn about the importance of water conservation. The roof is bordered by a glass canopy containing nearly 60,000 photo voltaic cells, which will produce over 5 percent of the Academy’s annual energy needs and prevent the release of over 405,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions each year. These photo voltaic cells will be clearly visible in the glass canopy, providing both shade and visual interest for the visitors below.

There are varying shades of green as measured by the U.S. Green Building Council through its LEEDTM – LEADERSHIP IN ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENTAL DESIGN – rating system. The LEED rating system is a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for evaluating high-performance, sustainable buildings. Through all aspects of design and construction, the Academy will strive to achieve the highest possible rating: LEED platinum.

In recognition of this commitment to sustainable “green” design, the Academy project was selected as the North American winner of the silver Holcim Award for Sustainable Construction in September 2005. The competition, organized by the HOLCIM FOUNDATION FOR SUSTAINABLE CONSTRUCTION in collaboration with five of the world’s leading technical universities, promotes sustainable approaches to the built environment. Globally, more than 1,500 projects from 118 countries were submitted for consideration. The Academy is the sole U.S. winner of a top-level Holcim Award.

The ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY awarded the Academy with its regional 2006 Environmental Award in recognition of the new building’s sustainable design. The EPA received more than 160 nominations in 2006; the Academy of Sciences was one of 39 recipients to be selected in this very elite group of environmental champions.

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Doors open Wednesday, September 27th

To purchase tickets on-line: CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

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See Related: FINE ARTS CRITIC SEAN MARTINFIELD

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Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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