October 02, 2008

the new Academy of Sciences, S.F.

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

I was lucky enough to visit the new California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park on Monday.   I skipped the Morrison Planetarium on this trip, but I thoroughly enjoyed the Natural History Museum and the Steinhart Aquarium.

There is a huge eco-bubble to explore...
Fish enjoy themselves in water at the base, while butterflies dot the canopy...
Many interesting displays provide information on the eco-system.

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

I just did the math, and it was about 47 years ago that I, as a lad of 14, last visited the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.   I was quite a shutter-bug at the time and I remember getting some great slides of the stuffed African animals -- and yes, they are still on display.

Here is something about the new Academy of Sciences that I lifted from the L.A. Times...

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World-class, unparalleled, greatest, biggest, most diverse, greenest and eco-grooviest. Able to leap tall buildings in a single rave, the new state-of-the-art and state-of-the-planet incarnation of the California Academy of Sciences is generating kilowatts of excitement and kudos.

This weekend marks the long-awaited grand reopening of the academy, which is unusual in that it houses an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum and educational programs under one roof. In commemoration of the very big deal that all of this is, several hundred butterflies were to be released at its Saturday debut in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, starting two days of hoopla that's set to include music, Chinese acrobats and a Native American blessing.

But the star attraction is the building itself, designed by Pritzker Prize winner Renzo Piano (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Pompidou Centre in Paris) and poised to be one of the world's greenest buildings.

Call it the "unmuseum," said Gregory C. Farrington, executive director. "Museums are supposed to have thick walls and dark corridors. You're supposed to get lost.
"This," he said "is entirely different. It's welcoming and full of life and light."

The place is spacious, sunlight-soaked, with glass walls surrounding a central atrium, but its crowning achievement is the living roof: a 2.5-acre biotic expanse with seven grassy domes creating a roof-scape of rolling hills and valleys that echoes San Francisco's topography and its seven predominant hills. The steepest peaks carpet the academy's domed planetarium, rain forest and aquarium exhibits.

The museum "is visually and functionally linked to its natural surroundings, metaphorically lifting up a piece of the park and putting a building underneath," Piano said. If you were a bird, you wouldn't even see the museum from above. You'd be mostly concerned with the 1.7 million native plants growing on top (including strawberries) and the various bugs snuggling in.

From an environmentalist's-eye view, the green roof embodies natural cooling and heating systems, water conservation, solar panels and a new habitat for birds and butterflies.
From a kid's-eye view, the rooftop may strongly resemble Teletubby-land. But fans of Teletubbies may be even more interested in the museum below, where the giant Pacific octopus in the Steinhart Aquarium can stretch 7 feet or shrink to tennis-ball-size.

And the pasty albino alligator can be viewed from above or below swamp level. Here, the great glass elevator takes visitors from the Amazon forest to the misty rain forests. You can take the long way up -- a winding ramp through the 90-foot-diameter glass dome (with detours for exhibits of a bat cave in Borneo, chameleons in Madagascar) to the treetops of Costa Rica, where a butterfly could land on your head.

Throughout the comprehensive exhibits on evolution, climate change, California tide pools and Philippine coral reefs, there is an array of clever touches. In the African Hall, looped digital projections of elephants crossing the painted veld enliven the zebra diorama. Kids will also love the Wii interactive stations, and adult gear-heads will like the option of hearing audio tours over their cellphones or on their iPods.

Post-adventure sustenance can be had at the museum's two sustainable restaurants. Renowned chefs Loretta Keller and Charles Phan have partnered to create the casual Academy Café and the fancier Moss Room, with outdoor dining during and after museum hours.

Farrington likes to call the academy the "kingdom of wow." The wow-worthy Morrison Planetarium is an enormous all-digital facility. Its opening show, "Fragile Planet," has a surround-scope domed screen providing a 360-degree immersive experience, an astronaut's-eye view panning out from the museum roof to infinity and beyond.

NASA satellite images of ocean hot spots and greenhouse gas concentrations pull back 6 million light-years to galaxies far, far away.

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Jo's-D-Eyes said...

wow wow woooooooow DON
what a lucky guy you are!!! I am so impressed by the shotstyou took and of course the history behind it too....this is a really awsome place for photographer eehhhh??? vey nice you shared this with ume on your blog!!!!!

Watch my sailingtrip on the IJsel-Markermeer in Holland and some windmils +History& poem..

Greetings JoAnn's D Eyes Holland

Tomate Farcie said...

Wow, pretty cool stuff!!!
I didn't make the connection yesterday when I saw the fish... The first shot is my favorite for some reason. Great stuff, thank you!

Mary said...

Wow, really neat shots! Love the one of the fish coming out of the sea anemone. (?) Sounds like a terrific place to spend the day.

photowannabe said...

I am so jealous Don....It really sounds like they did a great job on the complex. I want to see it soooo badly.
I will have to take my Granddaughters there some time. Its a bit expensive but there is so much to see.
Love your pictures of the fish and the hide. Excellent post.

AphotoAday said...


Yeah, the place is amazing, and would be a good learning experience for kids -- they have lots of computer terminals and video displays to teach about the eco-sphere and how everything is connected...

I should have mentioned -- that photo of the pendelum -- I remember it from my youth, and found it fascinating -- just as much as I did on Monday.   I got in a conversation with an old guy who asked me what it was all about -- he hadn't a clue that the earth was rotating at our feet, so I did the best I could to give him a refresher science talk...

Kathie Brown said...

Sure looks like an interesting place to visit. I love the photo in your header which looks like a lemon sun sinking into a tangerine sea! Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting.

Anonymous said...

you got in!! im so jealous, Don. i guess Plug2 and i will wait until the hype dies and re-attempt.

so they seem to have an open policy re: photography?

as always, amazing shots. i wish i was the master of my camera -- like you are.

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