The California Academy of Sciences opens its doors to the public on September 27th, 2008 after many years at a cramped, temporary location. This new gem, situated in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park across from the new De Young Museum, is a must see for any visitor to the Bay Area. The Academy is the only place in the world with an aquarium, a planetarium and a natural history museum all under one living roof. The architect, Renzo Piano, also helped design the Centre Pompidou in Paris; possibly the most groundbreaking structure of its time.
I visited the new Academy of Sciences with my five-year-old yesterday, enjoying a preview visit for new members. It was stunning. The building is spectacular; it is open and airy, without the dingy 19th century feel of many Natural History Museums. The living roof is truly extraordinary, with views of the park and city. Flowers grow, apparently animals make homes; my son was in awe. He kept reiterating how the living roof was keeping the building cool. We will surely return to see the evolution of the roof ecosystem.
There were vestiges of the old Academy of Sciences, including the seahorse gate surrounding the alligator swamp. My son marveled at Claude the Albino alligator and marched right up to a docent to ask if he was alive. Claude didn’t move much but made quite an impression.
Much was still under construction, the café was closed and training new workers, but the high points included the shark and ray display, the interactive kiosks and of course penguin feeding time. There was Pete the five-year-old penguin who likes to sit on the penguin feeders’ lap and of course Pierre the penguin a famous 25-year-old senior citizen who had a wetsuit designed for him because he was balding. He was apparently unable to swim or regulate his body temperature and was being picked on by the other penguins. He even has his own Wikipedia page. I’m happy to say Pierre’s feathers grew back, thanks to the wet suit, and he is thriving in his new environment.
The staff was omnipresent and keen to offer information. Two of my favorite “exhibits” were the hand dryers in the bathrooms and the water fountains. The hand dryers are these newfangled, super fast blower things; it was hard to get my son out of the restroom. The water fountains - so hard to find these days in public spaces - have signs touting the benefits of tap water over bottled water. All in all, the San Francisco Academy of Sciences is the greenest museum on Earth, and well worth a visit.