New Academy is greener than ever

September 12, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
The California Academy of Sciences is all about the natural world - studying and protecting it. So when the Academy had a chance to start fresh with a whole new building, it only made sense to make it as green as possible.

The first step in the Academy's green building plan was to recycle the old museum as it was torn apart; 90 percent of it was reused.

"We have concrete from our old building that's now in road systems over in Richmond, and sand from the site here that's now restoring beach dunes along the coast," communications director Stephanie Stone said.

In the new museum, the Academy tried to use products rthat are as easy on the environment as possible. The steel and concrete are made of recycled materials and the walls are stuffed with denim. It turns out the same stuff that makes a great pair of pants also makes great insulation.

"The scraps of denim that come from the cutting room floor of blue jean factories have found a new home here in our walls," Stone said.

There is no formaldehyde in denim insulation; it is heavier than fiberglass, but more pleasant to work with, workers said.

"It feels better than the normal fiberglass insulation, it doesn't itch as bad," insulation installer Arturo Vargas said.

The Academy is also trying hard to save water.

"The purple pipes are all pipes for reclaimed water," Stone said. "We used reclaimed water to flush the toilets, to backwash aquarium filters, so we're reducing our use of potable water by 90 percent here in the building."

The salt water to fill the aquarium tanks is piped directly to the Academy from Ocean Beach. It travels about three miles to a holding tank before it is funneled into a complex filtration system, then into the exhibits.

Many of the most innovative green features in the new Academy focus on light and ventilation.

"We don't have any air conditioning on the public floor," Stone said. "Instead we are using the wind and air around us in Golden Gate Park."

The piazza has motorized shades to control the amount of sun that goes in and there are automatic skylights on the roof that open and close to let hot air out of the building. The outer edge of the roof is surrounded by a glass canopy that creates shade below, but even more importantly; the canopy was built with solar energy cells inside it. There are 60,000 photovoltaic cells are sandwiched inside the glass.

"So 20 percent of the light that hits it turns into electricity that feeds the building itself," Steven Coonen of Open Energy said.

Almost all of the occupied parts of the building get natural daylight and at the back of the building, the hillside was dug away to let in the sun. The office space on the basement level are bright with natural light and have automatic lights that only go on when necessary. Some windows are controlled by hand, while other open and close on their own.

"So the building is regulating its own temperature," Stone said. "It's sort of a living breathing building."

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney


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