Sunday, September 28, 2008

California Academy of Sciences - Living Roof

We stood on the unique 'living roof' of the world today, one day after the momentous opening of the California Academy of Sciences in the Golden Gate Park where the art of architecture fuses with nature.

Here we gazed close up at the green, newly-planted mounds that symbolise the seven hills of San Francisco, part of architect Renzo Piano's imaginative 'picture' of lifting a slice of Golden Gate Park, sliding the museum underneath and putting the park back on top!

The resultant roof is described as 'the most complicated living roof ever constructed by architects and contractors.'

And it has been named The Osher Living Roof in honour of the Bernard Osher Foundation who donated $20 million dollars for the roof and for what is now called The Osher Rainforest.

One of the small surprises when you wind across the park, through the glassed Academy and up onto the roof is to realise the smallness of the viewing area in comparison to the 4.5 acres of overall roof and 2.5 acres of planted land.

Still there was plenty of space for the thousands of visitors making their way there today.

Laurel, there with her eleven-year-old son Andrew, was thrilled by it.

'I'm a home-schooling mum, although it's a misnomer because we're never at home!' she began, 'and we plan on coming here very often. It's a great resource for people who are educating their children.

'So we're really excited. This is our first of thousands of visits, and I know the Academy will be offering classes and they have internships for 13-year-olds upwards.'

A prospect that pleases Andrew. 'It is a great place to do home schooling,' he said.

Another delighted visitor was Suzanne from San Diego, captivated by 'the whole idea that you have this beautiful natural space and an informative space below.'

And the views. She spiralled round pointing out the 'cloud-shrouded' city that could be glimpsed between mounds, the architectural presence of the de Young Museum and the beauty of the park.

'This is the surprising, amazing and interesting thing about this,' she said of the location. 'But I do wish it was a little warmer!' she shivered. Therein, though, lies the endearing characteristic of San Francisco: the fog!

It will waft and wane at will, and for this, other weather reasons and the steepness of the hills, the plants have been specially chosen by botanist Frank Almeda.

He designed a 'plant test', picking 30 species to see how they thrived on steep slopes without artificial fertilization or irrigation. At the same time these plants had to look pretty throughout the year, provide a habitat attractive to native wildlife and be a species of Northern California.

No pressure!

The winners were beach strawberries, self heal, sea pink, stonecrop, tidy tips, miniature lupine, California plantain and goldfield plants and they were planted last year.

Two of the butterfly species they will attract are the endangered Bay checkerspot and San Bruno elfin who will now, hopefully, find preservation in the largest sweep of native vegetation in San Francisco County.

In total there are 1.7 million plants with a combined weight of soil and plants of 2.6 million pounds.

The roof hills provide energy conservation and insulation, reducing temperatures and low-frequency noise. The two largest mounds are also domes for the planetarium, rainforest and aquarium with automatic skylights giving ventilation and letting sunlight in. There is also a solar panel canopy.

For more pics:

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