Structure Type: built works - exhibition buildings - museums

Designers: Arup, Ove, and Partners (firm); Chong, Gordon H. and Partners, Architects (firm); Piano, Renzo, Building Workshop (RPBW) (firm); Rutherford and Chekene, Engineers (firm); Sasaki, Walker Associates (SWA), Incorporated, Landscape Architects (firm); Stantec, Incorporated (firm); Webcor Builders, Incorporated (firm); Mark Carroll (architect); Gordon Hing Quon Chong (architect); Olaf De Nooyer ; Shunji Ishida (architect); Renzo Piano (architect)

Dates: constructed 2005-2008

3 stories, total floor area: 398,265 sq. ft.

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55 Music Concourse Drive
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA 94118-4503

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Building History

This was the fifth building (or building complex) occupied by the California Academy of Sciences, an institution founded in 1853 as the "California Academy of Natural Sciences." (It dropped the word "Natural" in 1868.) The organization occupied its first permanent location on California Street and Dupont Street in San Francisco, CA, between 1874-1891. Its second and third homes were located on Market Street; the Market Street museum was destroyed in the Earthquake and Fire of 04/18/1906 and rebuilt; the Academy of Sciences moved to a new location in Golden Gate Park in 1916. It gradually built new buildings at the new site, developing an extensive complex by 1989, the year of the Loma Prieta Earthquake. This tremor heavily damaged various parts of San Francisco, including this section of the park. Efforts to shore up the various buildings of the museum worked temporarily, but it was decided by the early 2000s that completely rebuilding would provide the institution a new beginning. San Francisco prospered in the 1990s, and bond issues for various public improvements were successful. At this time, the City of San Francisco refreshed its cultural facilities, including the addition of a new wing to the De Young Museum across the street. While the De Young looked to the Swiss architectural firm of Herzog and de Meuron to provide a jolt of energy, the Academy of Sciences also looked to Europe for its new designer; in this case, they commissioned the highly respected, Italian-born architect Renzo Piano (born 1937 in Genoa, Italy) to accomplish the overhaul.

The Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) web site discussed the museum's historical evolution to the present: "Following the widespread destruction of the Academy buildings by the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, a consultation for this new building was held. Today’s Academy sits on the Golden Gate Park site of its predecessor, which was comprised of 11 buildings built between 1916 and 1976 and grouped around a central courtyard. Of these buildings, three have been conserved within the new project: the African Hall, the North American Hall and the Steinhart Aquarium. The new building has maintained the same position and orientation as the original; all the functions laid out around a central courtyard, which acts as entrance lobby and pivotal centre to the collections. This connection point is covered by a concave glass canopy with a reticular structure reminiscent of a spider’s web, open at the centre."

The architects, led by RPBW partners-in-charge Mark Carroll and Olaf de Nooyer as well as partner Shunji Ishida, collaborated with Ove Arup and Partners (on engineering and sustainability matters), Rutherford and Chekene (civil engineering), SWA Group (landscape design), Rana Creek (green roof), PBS and J (aquarium life-support systems), and Thinc Design, Cinnabar, and Visual-Acuity (exhibits). Webcor Builders served as the California Academy of Science's general contractor.

Building Notes

The RPBW outdid itself in making the California Academy of Sciences Building #5 environmentally sensitive and sustainable. Wired Magazine wrote of it: "The Academy is now the largest public Platinum-rated building in the world, and also the world’s greenest museum. The Academy earned the platinum rating (highest rating possible) for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). This commitment to sustainability extends to all facets of the facility - from the bike racks and rechargeable vehicle stations outside the building to the radiant sub-floor heating inside the building to the energy-generating solar panels on top of the building!" (See "California Academy of Sciences," published 01/06/2009, accessed 06/26/2018.)


In 2008, the Osher Rainforests of the World exhibit opened at the California Academy. This exhibit occupied a four-story-high glass dome, and was designed by San Francisco architect Gordon H. Chong (b. 1943). As noted in a biography of Chong posted on the web site of his undergraduate alma mater, the University of Oregon College of Design, School of Architecture and Environment: "Gordon is elegant, resourceful, thoughtful and driven,” said Alison Rempel Brown, chief finance and operations officer at the California Academy of Sciences, which Chong collaborated on in 2008 to build a four-story Rainforests of the World exhibit. “He was able to bridge the requirements of design aesthetics and operational needs into a building that is beautiful and cutting edge. This project has met and exceeded all of our dreams,” Rempel Brown told AsianWeek in September 2008." (See University of Oregon, College of Design School of Architecture and Environments, "Gordon H. Chong, 1966," accessed 06/25/2018.) The Osher Rainforest exhibit was refreshed c. 2018. The museum web site said of this new display: "More than 1,600 live animals reside in our rainforest dome, including 250 free-flying birds and butterflies and close to 100 exotic reptiles and amphibians." (See California Academy of Sciences, "Osher Rainforest," accessed 06/26/2018.)

While Chong was working on the design of this exhibit, his firm was purchased by Stantec, Incorporated, a huge engineering-architecture firm from Edmonton, AB. When the building was completed, Stantec was credited with design wotk on the museum.

PCAD id: 17951