Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Peek at San Francisco's New Exploratorium

The San Francisco waterfront is destined to play an even bigger role in the life of the city in the coming years. The tear-down of the Embarcadero freeway and the renovation of the Ferry Building were just the start of the renaissance. New restaurants, cafes, revamped piers and promenades seem to open each year and, with America's Cup sailing races expected to bring hundreds of thousands of people to the area in 2012 and 2013, more developments and improvements are in the works.
One of the most anticipated is the new Exploratorium, San Francisco's museum of "science, art and human perception," which broke ground last fall on Piers 15 and 17, at Embarcadero and Green Streets, about halfway between the Ferry Building and Pier 39. There's a large crane towering over the piers these days and you can even watch as the new building is constructed.
The first phase of the new Exploratorium is a $220 million project on Pier 15 (Pier 17 is on tap for future expansion) set to open in 2013 in a greatly expanded and more modern space than the museum's current home at the Palace of Fine Arts.
Museum staff said they expect visitor numbers to jump with the new, more accessible location, which is only a 10-minute walk from the Embarcadero BART station and along  major transportation lines (as opposed to the current location which is a cross-town journey for many visitors, particularly from the South and East bays.)
The historic pier where the new Exploratorium is being built spans the length of almost three football fields. Engineers drove 160 foot piles underneath the bay to replace, repair and seismically upgrade hundreds of dilapidated pilings and the substructure, which date to the early 20th century. The interior of Pier 15 will be preserved, including its truss structure, which stretches 820 feet — the equivalent of a New York City block.
The Observatory Building, the only new construction, will stand at the eastern end of Pier 15. The sleek, mostly glass structure will house a new gallery, outdoor terrace and a restaurant with panoramic bay views.
You can get a sense of what's coming at nearby Hyatt Regency San Francisco, which is showcasing the Exploratorium during the month of May as part of its "Culture Club" program. Each month, the hotel features a local cultural institution in its huge atrium lobby, North America's largest. (In June, the San Francisco Symphony will be featured; in July, Monterey Bay Aquarium).
Take a wander inside the atrium and check out several interactive exhibits from the Exploratorium that may bring back memories of field trips or afternoons at the Palace of Fine Arts. There's the pendulum snake, circle of waves, spinning eraser and the giant chair, among many others, that are a reminder of why the Exploratorium has been called "a scientific funhouse, art studio and an experimental laboratory all rolled into one."