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Last weekend, thousands of Bay Area residents waited patiently in lines, for as long as five hours, to be among the first to catch a glimpse of the newly renovated California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.
While It took almost four years of construction and about $488 million USD, the resulting building is one of the most environmentally friendly and state-of-the art museums in the world, a far cry from its former dilapidated state.
The new eco-friendly building is the vision of Italian Architect, Renzo Piano, who wanted to design something that would blend in with the Park. The resulting structure seamlessly incorporates an aquarium, a four-storey rainforest, a planetarium and a natural history museum. Covering it all, is the building's most beautiful and unusual feature - a 2.5 acre living garden roof, which features four native ground runners and five local wildflowers, including California poppies and beach strawberries, all growing out of 50,000 biodegradable coconut husk trays.
Besides being beautiful to look at the roof performs many important functions. The incline of its seven hills, representing San Francisco's seven major hills, help draw in cool air into the buildings central courtyard, alleviating the need for air-conditioning. In addition the roof is equipped with heat-sensitive skylights that automatically open up and provide natural light to the living coral reef and rainforest inside. It also has solar panels, which are expected to generate between 10-15% of the Academy's daily energy requirements. Lastly, the roof is designed to capture all the rainwater and channel it to the rainforest exhibit that lies below. Simply incredible!
The exhibits are as amazing as the building itself. Almost half of the museum's 100,000 square feet is taken up by the new Steinhart Aquarium, which has hundreds of tanks sculptured inside the walls. Among the highlights here are two massive tanks; one featuring live coral and fish from the Philippines and the other, fish and plants native to the Northern California waters.
A cool aquarium tunnel connects it to the four levels of the Rainforest exhibit. Each level features a different rainforest environment ranging from the Borneo rainforests in Indonesia, to the rainforests of Costa Rica. The rainforests are populated with native bats, chameleons, birds and other small creatures native to their respective regions.
The Morrison Planetarium with 290 seats is the largest and the most advanced digital Planetarium in the world providing an incredible experience for the audience.
In addition to the new exhibits, the Academy has also brought back some of the most popular exhibits from its old structure including Claude, an albino alligator and his female friend, aptly named Lady and the African Hall. For history buffs there is the Early Explorers Cave and nature lovers get to hang out in the Naturalist Center, which also features a huge library. In short there is something for everyone in this beautiful and mystical museum. To read about the exhibits in more detail check out the Academy's website at www.calacademy.org.
Sources; SFGate.com, SFexaminer.com, Sacbee.com