Friday, September 19, 2008
Photos from a preview tour of the new California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Frank Almeda, an academy scientist, shows the biodegradable trays used for the two million plants on the undulating hills of the roof. "Claude," the albino alligator in the "swamp' tank in the main hall is expected to draw big crowds.
The new California Academy of Sciences is opening with a weekend-long celebration on Saturday, Sept. 27, one of the most anticipated events in San Francisco in years, especially if you've been watching it being painstakingly rebuilt the least three years. On a preview tour this week with a group of reporters and other press people there was no doubt that the building was worth waiting for. We visited the planetarium, galleries, the aquarium and took the elevator to the roof. When the doors, we all gasped. There before us was 197,000 square feet of undulating hills, the "Living Roof" lined with native plants, all tightly packed in biodegradable trays to keep them from slipping off the slopes, which make up one of the largest roofs of its kind in the world. Renzo Piano, the noted Italian architect who designed the museum, was inspired by the dome-like Grand View Park from the nearby Sunset district hilltop, said museum staffer Frank Almeda. The large deck will be a popular spot for visitors. There isn't the view that's afforded by the deYoung Museum's twisting tower, but it's a peaceful spot where birds, inculding the park's resident hawks, are already flying about. Docents will be stationed on the roof to describe the plant life and Piano's design. Of course, the real destination is under the roof. The institution's mission is to answer two questions and the exhibits are designed with those in mind, said Gregg Ferrington, executive director. "It's to ask 'How did we get here?' and 'How are we going to find a way to stay?" The Academy of Sciences is home to the Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium, the Kimball Natural History Museum and a myriad of research programs. The new aquarium houses the world's largest coral reef -- a 25-foot high tank modeled after a reef in the Philippines -- with 500 species of fish. Several galleries highlight how animals have evolved and adapted to their environments. Some of the exhibits will be familiar to Steinhart visitors: the giant sea bass (see photo above) that weighs about 165 pounds, is now 30 years old. A four-story, glass-enclosed rainforest contains hundreds of plants, 40 birds and a tiny, red bromeliad frog. The vegetation is expected to grow into a dense canopy in the next three to four years. There's also the 87-foot long blue whale skeleton, the African Hall with its 1930s-era dioramas (now containing a live exhibit, South African penguins), and, of course, one of the academy's most famous inhabitants, Claude, the albino alligator, who lives in the "swamp" tank just inside the entrance hall.