In search of cool and unique topics to write about within the backlog of backlogs, I brushed off my digital pictures of The California Academy of Sciences. I visited the museum in early November as part of the University of Oregon’sÂ annual fall retreat and was super excited to tour the venues. I had, 2 years previously, visited the de Young Museum right across the street and peaked over the fence to see some of the museums construction in action. I had known very little about the building then and decided to keep an eye on the final stages of the design, as I am a fan of Renzo Piano’s work including the New York Times Building in NY, NY.
The building is stunning! Both in its presence on the site and the venues within its corridors. Concrete and steel framed structure holding glass curtain walled systems and glass biospheres contrasted with plants and animal showcases…It is enough to make this wanna be architecture critic write run on sentences! So much so I am going to break with words and just provide some of my favorite shots which I am sorry, they are a poor substitute for the real thing.
After visiting the museum, a good friend of mine asked if it was really the architectural design of the building that I liked or if it was the venues contained within the building that made me as giddy as a school girl on Easter Sunday? Furthermore, there was reason to question how much design work Renzo Piano and his band of merry architects put into the design versus the engineering side of the equation. I have to admit, an astute observation, dear friend, but I have my rebuttal (albeit a couple months late)!
Truth be told, if you removed the interactive venues and just looked at the building+enclosure, as is, you would see that the building is essentially a concrete box with a wavy roof housing multiple floors with sections of the floorplates having been removed to filter light down into the building core. By itself, I have described every major big box multi-leveled Cosco or WallMart, minus the wavy roof, that has ever walked the streets of suburbia, but you do not see me blogging about those now do you? (just wait until next Thursday!) Sure, the architecture of the California Academy of Science is not some fantastic, eye popping, iconic piece of scrap metal that screams “look at me and what I do!” But listen, the whole point of the design is that the architecture is integrated within each venue in a unique and, frankly, ‘quiet iconic’ way. Removing the program is like removing the strawberry jam from your sandwhich and still calling it a pb&j.
Let us look at it from an example point of view. For instance, if you take out the rainforest bio-dome, you also have to take out the wavey roof that allows for the sphere to be created as there is not reason to have a wavy roof anymore. If you take out the aquarium then you have no reason for underground tunnels for people to walk through and any need for sections to be cut through the floorplates. The architectural design moves are a direct reflection of the venues on the space and vice versa therefore if you remove the venues, you are removing the architecturual intent of the space. These spaces also have lots of design considerations which requires a team of architects, engineers, landscape architects, etc. So yes, I /do/ think it is the architectural design of the building that makes this 23 year old school girl squee for pb-&-j and not just the venues.
Again, do not take my word for it. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area or are in the area and do not have plans this weekend, GO! I reccommend buying tickets ahead of time though. It will save you one line that you do not have to stand through. Seariously, have a look around! See the penguins.Â Eat some food. People watch. It will be the best $24.95 ($19.95Â for students + I.D.) that you have used in a very long time and definitely beats the movies. Do I need to mention penguins again?