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California Academy of Sciences
Established 1853
Location San Francisco, California, USA
Type Natural History
Visitor figures Over 1 million visits annually
Director Gregory C. Farrington

The California Academy of Sciences is one of the ten largest museums of natural history in the World[citation needed]. Remodeled in 2008, it is also one of the newest in the United States. It is located in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California. The Academy began in 1853 as a learned society and still carries out a large amount of original research,[1] with exhibits[2] and education[3] becoming significant endeavours in the 20th century. The Academy's primary buildings in Golden Gate Park reopened on September 27, 2008.


Public education

Diver is cleaning aquarium in California Academy of Sciences
Sambava Tomato Frog

Prior to being replaced the old Academy building attracted around half a million visitors each year. As has been the case from the start, the main thrust of the exhibits is natural history. As such, the public areas of the Academy are divided into three general areas.

  • Steinhart Aquarium - which takes up most of the basement area, as well as four-story dome that emulates a rainforest.[4]
  • Morrison Planetarium - devoted to things astronomical.
  • Kimball Natural History Museum - which, in addition to African Hall and a Foucault pendulum, includes a variety of changing displays covering a variety of subjects.


The Academy conducts research in a number of fields, largely but not exclusively branches of biology: anthropology, marine biology, botany, entomology, herpetology, ichthyology, invertebrate zoology, mammalogy and ornithology. Geology also has a long history at the Academy, with a concentration on paleontology. There is a strong emphasis on environmental concerns, with all the various departments collaborating closely to focus on systematic biology and biodiversity.


Academy of Sciences before reconstruction began in 2005.

The California Academy of Natural Sciences was founded in 1853, only three years after California joined the United States, becoming the first society of its kind in the Western US. Its stated aim was to undertake "a thorough systematic survey of every portion of the State and the collection of a cabinet of her rare and rich productions". It was renamed to be the more inclusive California Academy of Sciences in 1868.

The Academy had a forward-thinking approach to the involvement of women in science, passing a resolution that the members "highly approve of the aid of females in every department of natural science, and invite their cooperation" in its first year of existence. This led to several female botanists, entomologists and others finding work at the Academy during the 19th century, when opportunities for women in the sciences were limited, and often restricted to menial cataloguing and calculation work.

The Academy's first official museum opened in 1874 at the corner of California and Dupont Streets (now Grant Avenue) in what is now Chinatown, and drew up to 80,000 visitors a year. To better accommodate its popularity, the Academy moved in 1891 to a new and larger building on Market Street, funded by the legacy of James Lick, a 19th century San Francisco real estate mogul, entrepreneur and philanthropist. However, only fifteen years later the Market Street facility fell victim to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which also wiped out large swathes of the Academy's library and specimen collections. In the aftermath of the quake, Academy curators and staffers were only able to retrieve a single cart of materials, including Academy minute books, membership records, and 2,000 type specimens.[5] Fortunately, an expedition to the Galápagos Islands (the first of several sponsored by the Academy) was already underway, and it returned seven months later, instantly providing replacement collections.

It was not until 1916 that the Academy moved to the North American Hall of Birds and Mammals in Golden Gate Park, the first building on the site that was to become its permanent home. In 1923, the Steinhart Aquarium was added, followed in 1934 by the Simson African Hall.

During World War II, the Academy contributed to the American war effort by using its workshop facilities to repair optical and navigational equipment for United States Navy ships (San Francisco being a major port for the Pacific War). The post-war years saw a flurry of new construction on the site; the Science Hall was added in 1951, followed by the Morrison Planetarium in 1952. The Morrison Planetarium was the seventh major planetarium to open in the United States and featured a one-of-a-kind star projector, built by Academy staff (in part using the expertise gained doing the optical work for the U.S. Navy during World War II). The Academy Projector produced a remarkably natural-looking starfield. It projected irregularly shaped stars, rather than the circular stars projected by many optical star projectors. The irregular shapes were created by hand-placing variously sized grains of silicon carbide onto the glass starplates, then aluminizing the plates, and brushing away the silicon carbide grains. In 1959, the Malliard Library, Eastwood Hall of Botany and Livermore Room were all added.

The new building on opening day

Throughout the 1960s, universities concentrating on the new field of molecular biology divested themselves of their specimen collections, entrusting them to the Academy and leading to a rapid growth of the Academy's holdings. 1969 saw another new building, Cowell Hall, added to the site. In 1976 several new galleries were opened, and the following year saw the construction of the "fish roundabout".

Prior to the old building being torn down in 2005, there was a Life through Time gallery, housing a large display on evolution and paleontology. There was a Gem & Mineral Hall, a section on Earthquakes, and a Gary Larson exhibit.

Earthquake damage and new building

The Academy's buildings were damaged significantly in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Subsequently, the Bird Hall building was closed to ensure public safety. The inadequately engineered Steinhart Aquarium suffered dramatic seismic damage from the 1989 quake as well. As plans were made to repair the damage and make the buildings seismically stable, it was realized that a considerable amount of work would be needed to bring the buildings up to modern standards. This led to the idea of giving the Academy a complete overhaul, thus motivating the closure of the main site.

New building's environmental design

Construction began on the $500 million new building on September 12, 2005, while the exhibits were moved to 875 Howard Street for a temporary museum. The design architect for the museum replacement project is Renzo Piano. The design was given the Urban Land Institute's (ULI) Award for Excellence:The Americas in 2008, considered the land use industry’s most prestigious recognition program, [6] and won the Holcim Award Silver for sustainable construction projects for region North America in 2005.[7] One critic praised the building as a "blazingly uncynical embrace of the Enlightenment values of truth and reason" and a "comforting reminder of the civilizing function of great art in a barbaric age."[8]

The main contractor for the museum reconstruction is Webcor Builders. Other key members of the design and construction team include Stantec Architecture of San Francisco,[9] TEECOM Design Group, who designed the IT infrastructure,[10] and Arup, who provided most of the engineering services. The SWA Group, headquartered in Sausalito, California, provided landscape architectural services, including implementation design of the Living Roof, and Rana Creek Living Architecture from Carmel Valley, California, provided additional consultation.[11][12]

A modern green roof employs native plants and engineered drainage, extensive daylighting, and photovoltaic electrical generation

The new building is at the forefront of environmentally-friendly design, in keeping with the Academy's focus on ecological concerns and environmental sustainability. It received Platinum certification under the LEED program.[13] As a result of its environmentally-friendly design and other unique features, this project was featured on the Discovery Channel's Extreme Engineering series in 2006[14] and on the National Geographic Channel's Man-Made series in July 2008.[15]

The Academy reopened with a free day on September 27, 2008. For most of the day the line for admittance was over a mile long, and although over 15,000 people were admitted, several thousands more had to be turned away.[16] Admission to the Academy is free the third Wednesday of each month, and there are also "San Francisco Neighborhood Free Days" based on zip code.[17]

Building features

The new building includes a remarkable array of environmentally friendly features.[18][19]

  • Produces 50 percent less wastewater than previously
  • Recycles rainwater for irrigation
  • Uses 60,000 photovoltaic cells
  • Supports a green roof with an area of 2.5 acres (1.0 ha)
  • Uses natural lighting in 90 percent of occupied spaces
  • Was constructed of over 20,000 cubic yards (15,000 m3) of recycled concrete
  • Construction includes 11 million pounds (5,000 t) of recycled steel
  • Wall insulation made from scraps of recycled denim
Cownose Ray fish at the California Academy of Sciences

See also


  1. ^ "Research". California Academy of Sciences. 
  2. ^ "Exhibits". California Academy of Sciences. 
  3. ^ "Education". California Academy of Sciences. 
  4. ^ "Rainforests of the World". California Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 2009-01-07. 
  5. ^ "A Look at the Cal Academy of Sciences of 1891-1906". Bearings. Retrieved 2009-07-19. 
  6. ^ "AwardsAndCompetitions". Urban Land Institute. Retrieved 20 July 2009. 
  7. ^ Rochon, Lisa (6 October 2005). "Quelle surprise! Uber-building shutout; A low-income housing project in Montreal has won a prestigious prize". The Globe and Mail (Toronto): p. R3. 
  8. ^ Ouroussoff, Nicolai (23 September 2008). "A Building That Blooms and Grows, Balancing Nature and Civilization". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ Pang, Angela (26 September 2008). "Chong Behind New Academy of Sciences". AsianWeek. Retrieved 2009-01-07. 
  10. ^ Samson, Ted (28 August 2008). "California Academy of Sciences leverages IP to cut waste, costs". InfoWorld. Retrieved 2009-02-15. 
  11. ^ "The New Building". California Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 2009-01-07. 
  12. ^ Brown, Patricia Leigh (23 March 2007). "The Window Box Gets Some Tough Competition". The New York Times. 
  13. ^ California Academy of Sciences (2008-10-08). "New California Academy of Sciences Receives Highest Possible Rating from U.S. Green Building Council: LEED Platinum". Press release. Retrieved 2009-01-07. 
  14. ^ "California Academy of Sciences". Extreme Engineering. Discovery Channel. 2006-11-08. No. 5, season 5.
  15. ^ "Hi-Tech Museum". Man-Made. National Geographic Channel. 2008-07-17. No. 11, season 1.
  16. ^ Perlman, David (28 September 2008). "Mile-long line for Academy of Sciences opening". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-01-07. 
  17. ^ "Academy Free Days". California Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 2009-01-07. 
  18. ^ Simons, Eric (September/October 2008). "Concrete and strawberries". California (University of California Alumni Association): 52–53. 
  19. ^ Chino, Mike (2008-09-22). "The New Green California Academy of Sciences Unveiled!". Inhabit. 

Further reading

External links

Coordinates: 37°46′12″N 122°27′59″W / 37.770100°N 122.466407°W / 37.770100; -122.466407

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