Conservation, Eco-friendly, Green, Science

California Academy of Sciences Installs “Living Roof”

The California Academy of Sciences has installed a living roof.
A living roof. Photo: Shutterstock

The California Academy of Sciences is dedicated to combining research and education like no other museum. This is true even with the roof. The Academy has a living roof—a 2.5-acre field sitting 35 feet above the ground. It is covered with a variety of indigenous Californian species and almost 2 million individual plants. The Bernard Osher Foundation made a $20 million donation specifically for this project, which began in 2005 and was finished by September 2008.

Several architecture groups worked together to create this never-been-done-before roof. The roof includes several hills, or steeply sloped domes. One of them has an incline of 60 degrees. The roof was structured using 50,000 modular porous trays made from tree sap and coconut husks. These held the plants in place while the roots grew together and interlocked, similar to sewing the pieces on a patchwork quilt.

In addition to being the densest concentration of wildflowers in San Francisco, this roof provides a habitat for birds, bees and other important animals. The plants also provide immense benefits to the building below. The plants absorb 98 percent of all storm water, meaning runoff with pollutants is not further entering the ecosystem

The plants keep the interior 10 degrees cooler than the average San Francisco roof. In addition the solar panels that are laid out with the plants provide up to 10 percent of the electricity needed for the Academy.

Among the more technical features of the roof is its automated skylight system. In addition to collecting basic weather data, the system monitors the inside of the Academy and the inside of the jungle exhibit. Using this data, it opens and shuts the skylights to regulate temperatures as necessary.

While most people don’t come to the Academy for the roof, it is certainly an impressive feat and is a great example for more projects to come.


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