A grant to the California Academy of Sciences helps create the greenest museum in the world

Nov 08, 2010

Just two years ago, the doors of the new California Academy of Sciences, located in the heart of Golden Gate Park, opened to the public. Following a decade of planning and fundraising, the Renzo Piano–designed museum—which houses an aquarium, planetarium, rainforest, and natural history museum—opened on September 27, 2008. A week and a half later, the U.S. Green Building Council issued its formal rating, awarding the facility its highest possible certification: LEED Platinum. Founded in 1853 as the first scientific institution in the west, the Academy opened its first public museum in 1874 and began exhibiting its animal and plant specimens and rare artifacts to visitors.

A major earthquake and ensuing fire in 1906 destroyed the Academy’s building and fifty years of research collections. By 1916, the academy had relocated to Golden Gate Park, where it grew over the decades to house twelve different buildings built over 80 years, including an aquarium, planetarium, and more. Then in 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake left the institution with major structural damage.

Over the next several years, the Academy took advantage of the opportunity to rethink its approach for the 21st century—and create a destination that would bring the latest in scientific research to the public in the most engaging and entertaining ways possible. During the early phase of the campaign to fund and design the new Academy, Bank of America got actively involved, providing a $500,000 grant to the organization. The period of transition gave the academy the opportunity to become a major scientific and cultural institution internationally, expanding its educational outreach programs to reach a wider, more diverse audience and exploring new, technologically advanced ways to communicate ideas about science to the public.

Today, 1.6 million people, including more than 300,000 school-aged children, visit the museum each year. The first draw is the combination of planetarium, aquarium, rainforest and natural history museum under one roof. The planetarium has the world’s largest all-digital dome, the aquarium houses 38,000 live animals, including 1,600 in the four-story rainforest, and the natural history museum exhibits some of the institution’s 26 million scientific specimens.

But the roof itself is also notable. Also designed by Renzo Piano, the 197,000-square-foot rooftop undulates above the building, providing a dense concentration of native plants and wildflowers and a visitors’ observation terrace. The green rooftop keeps the building’s interior an average of 10 degrees cooler than a standard roof and the plants transform carbon dioxide into oxygen, capture rainwater and reduce energy needs. With its help in funding the new museum, Bank of America sought to do its part to increase innovative science education for students and adults, creating a destination that has a positive impact on the community. The bank’s support helps the museum inspire in its visitors a sense of wonder, understanding and stewardship of the natural world.

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