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Green roof redefines what a natural history museum can be

Green roof redefines a natural history museum at California Academy of Sciences which is scheduled to open the new building in 2008.

One of the more daring elements of the new Academy is the roof. An estimated 1.7 million plants will be needed for the 2.5 acres. The plants will be native to a 25-mile radius of the building and will serve as a natural insulator and absorb rainwater.

Brent Bucknum, a green roof designer with Rana Creek Nursery, the Monterey County firm hired for the Academy project, said the plants chosen must be able to thrive in fog and without irrigation. The chosen plants, also hospitable to native wildlife, range from wild strawberries that attract native birds, to stonecrop, which produces nectar for the threatened San Bruno elfin butterfly. Thirty-five native plants were subjected to two years of San Francisco's harsh weather cycles -- there were nine survivors -- five wildflowers, four herbaceous perennials.

The hearty plants will make up the new building's entire roof, a 2.5-acre living cover. Planted with a variety of Northern California native plants, the roof will blend the building with the surrounding park and provide benefits to local wildlife. A small portion of the roof will be accessible to visitors. An ideal location for watching wildlife, this area will feature an exhibit area nestled between the landscaped portions of the roof.

This reconstruction project is expected to be the largest and most visited green building in the world, using less water and energy and constructed with an emphasis on recycled materials.

Successful green roofs require research and planning. This prototype is one of five being tested. The other four, each facing a different direction, are now on the Academy's roof and will be monitored over the next year.

In addition to the green roof, The Academy is considering alternative energy sources. The use of biofuel is being considered for the Academy 's boilers, which provide approximately 10%of the energy used by the project. Biofuel is a clean, renewable fossil fuel substitute produced from agricultural resources such as soybeans or rapeseed (canola), or recycled cooking oil from restaurants. Pure biofuel is completely biodegradable and non-toxic to plants, animals and humans.

The open offices will be naturally ventilated. The building shape and materials are designed to be a climatic filter, limiting the solar gain and cooling/heating requirements. Easy to open windows will be used so that occupants have control over their local environment. And natural daylight will be accomplished with glazed facades, the roof design and lighting controls.

The Academy of Sciences, has a dual mission of education and research, and will house the Morrison Planetarium, the Steinhart Aquarium -- including its popular alligator swamp -- and the newly named Kimball Natural History Museum, named for the institution's former chairman, the late William R. Kimball.

The California Academy of Sciences
(415) 321-8000
875 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA 94103,