California Academy of Sciences Green Roof

Designers: Renzo Piano, SWA Group | City: San Francisco, CA | Project Type: green roof, museum
Date Visited: 11.15.12

Locations: 55 Music Concourse Dr. San Francisco, CA
Size: 2.5 acres
Cost: $488 million
Official Opening Date: September 2008

The California Academy of Sciences Green Roof sits on top of the world’s greenest LEED-Platinum museum with the tagline that it’s “the only place on the planet with an aquarium, a planetarium, a natural history museum, and a 4-story rainforest all under one living roof.”

At the heart of Golden Gate Park, architect Renzo Piano and landscape architecture firm SWA Group teamed up to create a 2.5-acre undulating green roof. The valleys and crests of the these sculptural green mounds allude to the hilly topography of San Francisco and directly mimic the hills of the nearby Twin Peaks. The mounds are also embedded with carefully placed skylights to calibrate the amount of sunlight the planetarium and rainforest exhibit receive down below.

The green roof also provides habitat and pays homage to the surrounding landscape with its nearly one-half million native California plants that help keep the “building’s interior an average of 10 degrees cooler than a standard roof would” and retain “2 million gallons of rainwater, preventing 70% of the rainwater that falls on the roof from becoming runoff.”

The sculptural green roof is also surrounded by a large glass canopy with a decorative band of 60,000 photovoltaic cells that “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.”

The living roof is a great educational resource for the Academy’s half a million visitors. An elevator and a 3,500-square foot observation deck with interpretive signage provides access to the living roof. Impressive in design and scope, I still wish there was a chance for more interaction between visitors and the landscape–perhaps in the way of more pathways out into the green roof.

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