When Charles Phan and Loretta Keller need strawberries for a recipe, the two chefs behind the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco don’t go out to the farmers’ market. They go up to the museum’s roof. The 1.7 million plants on the academy’s new “living” roof not only help insulate the building, they also provide ingredients for its café and restaurant, promoting the notion of cooking locally and sustainably in a way that’s radical even for San Francisco.
That’s only one part of the academy’s vision. The roof, created during the building’s $488 million renovation, elegantly conceals one of the world’s largest planetariums, an aquarium with a coral reef system from the Philippines and a four-story glass dome filled with rain-forest plants and animals from Borneo, Madagascar, Costa Rica and the Amazon. From the front of the academy’s towering glass-walled entrance, it looks as if someone lifted the earth up 65 feet and slid a museum inside.
The camouflage blends perfectly into the academy’s setting in Golden Gate Park, but it’s not a gimmick. Star architect Renzo Piano—the designer of Paris’s Centre Pompidou—has turned the museum into what will be the largest public building to receive a LEED Platinum certification, indicating that it meets the highest possible level of environmentally sustainable design. Sixty-thousand photovoltaic cells cover the exterior, generating about 10 percent of the building’s energy. To provide insulation, the walls are stuffed with shredded denim salvaged from the floors of jeans factories. As a result of these innovations, the academy doesn’t need air-conditioning.