Strawberries, Birds, Bees Find Home on Green Roof — Bloomberg

Strawberries, Birds, Bees Find Home on Green Roof - Bloomberg

Planetarium and atrium under construction

Oct. 3 (Bloomberg) — The roof of the new California Academy of Sciences building in San Francisco is sprouting.

Soon it will look like a meadow.

Designed by Renzo Piano. the $484 million building in Golden Gate Park opens in about a year and will house the academys natural history museum, planetarium, aquarium tanks, visitor center, offices and support facilities.

Part of its eco-friendly essence is this 2.5 acre expanse that will help lower its energy consumption by about a third.

Besides letting the building blend into the park, the «living roof with seven hills will provide a habitat for birds, bees, butterflies and other threatened species.

«Its a building that doesnt fight with the environment but reflects it, said Frank Almeda, senior curator of botany. «If a natural history museum doesnt do this, who would?

Topping the roofs concrete slab is a thick sandwich: a sheet of waterproofing material, a layer of rigid insulation, a drainage layer of gravel, an «erosion control blanket, 3 inches of soil and, on top, more than 50,000 biodegradable woven-fiber trays containing soil and plants, including beach strawberries, California poppies and plantains. Their flowers range from yellow to pink to purple.

Buzzing Bees

On a tour of the building in midsummer, with more than half of the roof already covered by the 17-by-17-inch trays, the California goldfield flowers were in full yellow bloom and the roof was literally buzzing with striped honeybees.

There also were some interlopers: several tall, sturdy weeds towering over the low-lying ground cover.

«Any garden has some maintenance to it, Almeda admitted, saying the roof will have to be weeded periodically. And also watered: Though its designed to be self-sustaining after the plants are fully established, «for the first year or two, well have to irrigate, he said.

The academy staff tested more than 35 different species at the site, gauging their performance over two years. Then the nine winning types were grown at Rana Creek Nursery in coastal Carmel, planted in the coconut-husk trays and trucked to Golden Gate Park, where they were planted by Jensen Co.

The trays help stabilize the soil on the hilly terrain of the roof until roots develop fully. While all nine species tested well in the parks climate, which ranges from wet and foggy to sunny and dry, there may be winners and losers.

Fresh Start

«Some of them may get squeezed out by the others, Almeda said. «Well study whats attracted to the roof. In time we expect birds and hummingbirds and insects will live there.

The building replaces a rambling group of structures put up between 1916 and 1952 on the same site. After the outdated buildings were damaged by the 1989 earthquake, the academy first considered retrofitting them. Then in 2000 the academys board voted to start from scratch and build a new, state-of-the-art home.

The projects budget, which has grown from an original $392 million, includes $140 million from two city bond issues. The academy is raising the balance from public donations and has about $79 million to go.

Strawberries, Birds, Bees Find Home on Green Roof - Bloomberg

The 410,000-square-foot building is a kind of architectural assemblage of dissimilar parts. Below the hilly roof, Piano has recycled a part of the old academys facade, a neoclassical wall of golden limestone that would look at home in Paris. It stands on one side of the main entrance and atrium, while the other side is covered with unfinished concrete.

Almost Done

The building sits in the park about 200 yards across a tree-lined plaza from the de Young art museum. an aggressively modern design by the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron that opened in 2005, replacing another earthquake-unsafe structure from the early 20th century. The de Young, clad in a reddish-brown copper skin that makes it look like an abstract sculpture, is expected to turn green as it ages. («We like to say well be green from Day One, joked Andrew Ng, a spokesman for the academy.)

Construction of the academy itself is almost complete.

«Were told the keys will be turned over to us on Oct. 26, Almeda said. Still, it will take another year to move in. Aquarium tanks have to be filled, tested and populated with fish. Projection equipment and seating must be installed in the planetarium. Animal specimens must be moved into their display cases and dioramas for the natural history museum.

Yet its the roof thats likely to get the most attention, and Pianos design includes an observation deck for visitors to check out the landscape in the sky.

«We werent just making an environmental statement, Almeda said about the decade-long development of the new building. «We wanted it to be esthetically pleasing.

(Stephen West is an editor for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen West in San Francisco at smwest@bloomberg.net .

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