Contributing Monkie Jennifer Buonantony
Published on July 23, 2009
Foggy City or Urban Green- Is San Fran the new eco-destination? Visiting Golden Gate Park by Jennifer Buonantony
Tired of June Gloom and the equally gloomy economic situation, I decided I needed a few days away. Ironically, I found myself heading to San Francisco.
After a day of activities- clam chowder in a bread bowl, a trolley to the Pier, and a baseball game on the bay- I had completed the traditional tourist fare. I was searching for an exciting recommendation when I was told about the newly re-opened California Academy of Sciences at Golden Gate Park.
A day indoors wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when given the suggestion, but I soon realized it wasn’t what Architect Renzo Piano had in mind either when he began work on this $500 million, almost ten-year renovation.
Sure, the drizzling weather and the fact that I’d heard there was a bio-dome (a la Pauly Shore) might have helped drag me on the bus that now left me standing before this masterpiece of sustainable architecture.
Not only does the building blend into the natural habitat of the parks’ botanical gardens and trees, it is literally filled with over 40,000 plants and animals and boasts some of the most unique exhibits and technologically advanced displays anywhere in the world. For starters, it is the only place on the planet to sport a planetarium, aquarium, natural history museum, and 4-story rainforest all under one roof- and a living roof at that. We’re talking 1.7 million plants on 2 ½ acres.
And I can’t even get a plant on my balcony to sustain itself!
From top to bottom, the building is a testament to the academy’s commitment to energy efficiency, reducing the carbon footprint, and preserving the natural world.
When you first walk in you can’t help but notice a suspended walkway that crosses you over the deepest coral reef exhibit on Earth and that leads you below to an aquarium spanning the shores of the California Coast to deep in the Amazon. The reef is set beside the largest all digital Morrison planetarium and across from the largest glass dome rainforest on the planet. The roof is a 197,000 square foot living tapestry of native plants that includes an open-air observation terrace that allows for an up-close look at the canopy of plants, birds, insects, and butterflies that live there. It is like “lifting up a piece of the park and putting a building under it”. The floor to ceiling glass windows truly gives you the feeling that the museum is an integrated part of the park, practically living among its inhabitants.
Aside from its exhibits, the Academy has environmental education programs, houses a scientific archive of over 20 million species, and supports 46 world-class researchers in 11 fields of study. It has also earned the highest platinum rating for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
The OSCAR of the green movement.
As if this wasn’t impressive enough, the building’s solar panels and the fact that its walls are insulated with recycled blue jeans (yes, you read that correctly) help maintain temperature and conserve energy. There is an extensive water reclamation system, radiant sub-floor heating, rechargeable vehicle stations, bike racks, and countless trash bins delegated as recycle, compost, and landfill around every corner.
After staying until close, I was even asked to recycle my museum map on the way out the door. As, I re-entered the city of San Fran I noticed the bus back to my hotel was covered in ads calling for “Solar Panels in Your Home” and “Free Quotes on Energy Efficient Windows”. I wondered if this was a weird coincidence or if the city once known for its fog layer was the new leader in urban green. One thing was for sure, my outlook felt a little less gloomy.