The California Academy of Sciences was recently recognized by The California Architectural Foundation (CAF) as the winner of the the 2012 Nathaniel A. Owings Award for environmental excellence. With the goal of “exploring, explaining and protecting the natural world,” the Academy of Sciences epitomizes the objectives of both the Owings Award and CAF, the nonprofit organization committed to advancing sustainable communities through research and education.
Placed well in its historically important civic space in Golden Gate Park, the Academy of Sciences project expresses these goals in all its aspects: siting, programming, outstanding exhibits and public spaces and an architectural frame of distinction and clarity that is suitable to its public role and which incorporates high performance standards, as well as elements of the previous building. An innovative, sustainable living roof is integrated into the project as one of its most notable features. The project was submitted by international landscape architecture firm SWA Group (with offices in California), who were invited by the architects, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, to collaborate with Rana Creek Living Architecture in the development of this characterizing feature.
The Owings Award jury honors the Academy, the architects and SWA for their vision and skill in creating a roof that is a bold model for the integration of sustainable technology, natural systems, design innovation, and public education. The contours of the roof echo the hills of San Francisco while functioning as an educational exhibit on sustainability. In addition to a comprehensive set of technologies relating to building systems—from water recycling in the basement to synchronized ventilation openings in the building curtain walls and roof domes¬—the living roof captures 98% of storm water, improves air quality by creating and scrubbing oxygen and reducing energy needs for air conditioning, improves the lifespan of the roof membrane, and provides habitat for migratory and local wildlife. New entries and side gardens provide a variety of flexible outdoor rooms, integrate smoothly with the project site, and are made possible by the new structure’s reduced footprint. Weather-based, high-efficiency irrigation technology reduces water usage, as does the planting palette, which consists primarily of native California plants requiring limited or no irrigation.
This award recognizes outstanding accomplishments in the reconciliation of nature and the built environment. The jury commented that this has become one of the most important buildings in San Francisco and it successfully engages the wider community, creating a dramatic and instructive civic “living room.” The Academy focuses attention on the larger natural landscape and its global imperatives; symbolically placing science and its exploration of the environment in the core of one of the city’s most loved and hallowed places.
The Nathaniel A. Owings Award was originally created in 1986 to honor Nathaniel Owings (1903-1984), a founding partner of the firm Skidmore Owings and Merrill. This year it was refined to capture his core values: man should live in harmony with nature and he should build “in cooperation with nature—not against it.” Owings believed architecture should contribute to the broader community and the creation of public space in American cities: “Non-architecture—open spaces—will be the objective, and the buildings will simply frame them.” CAF is grateful to SOM San Francisco for their generous support of this award.
The distinguished jury included:
- Michael Duncan, AIA – Design Director, SOM San Francisco
- Sandhya Naidu Janardhan – Program Manager, Architecture for Humanity
- Donlyn Lyndon, FAIA- Professor of Architecture, Emeritus, UC Berkeley
- Eva Li – Professor of Architecture, Emeritus, UC Berkeley
- Norman R. Millar, AIA – Dean of the School of Architecture at Woodbury University and CAF Regent Ken Smith, ASLA – WORKSHOP: Ken Smith – Landscape Architect