Green Role Model: California Academy of Sciences

This campus features a roof growing as green as their traditional landscaping

Looking like a quirky, rolling landscape out of a dr. seuss book, the green roof is literally the crowning achievement of architect Renzo Piano’s new California Academy of Sciences building in San Francisco. Every element of the structure has been designed with sustainability in mind, in keeping with the academy’s mission—“to explore, explain and protect the natural world.” The academy boasts that its $500-million home, which holds a platinum rating for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), is “the greenest museum in the world.”

Its many facilities include a natural history museum, an aquarium, theaters and a four-story miniature rain forest. Most of the construction consists of recycled materials, even down to the blue jean denim insulating the walls. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer expansive views of neighboring Golden Gate Park and naturally illuminate 90 percent of the occupied spaces. A solar canopy with 60,000 photovoltaic cells generates up to 10 percent of the electricity, which helps the building consume about 35 percent less power than federal guidelines require.

Yet the 2.5-acre living roof is what best integrates the building into its parkland surroundings. Six inches of soil insulate the rooftop and nourish 1.7 million plants growing there. The louvered skylights open automatically on hot days for light and ventilation, while the sloping parts of the roof funnel cool air down to a central piazza. Learn more at

Note: This story was originally printed with the title, "Role Model".

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This article was originally published with the title "The Greenery Overhead."

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