The landscaping team tested the performance of a variety of plants on a full-scale mock-up, which
simulated the slope and aspect of the green roof’s signature hills.
Aquarium and lab photos, Tim Griffith; roof mock-up photo, courtesy Rana Creek Habitat Restoration; flower photos: top row (l-r), Megan Lynch, Janelle Bloomdale, Mike Baird/ bairdphotos.com;
second row (l-r), Morena Timm, Jason Banker, Jennifer Batten; bottom row (l-r), Adrian George, Jim Cliffe/Fading Light Images, Dawn Endico/ tafoni.net; scuba illustration, Simon Spoon/istock
The California Academy of Sciences’ volunteer scuba-diving program reminds me of one of those symbiotic
couplings found between nature’s most pragmatic creatures. But don’t worry—it has nothing to do with barnacles or tube worms. The Academy’s massive aquarium
tanks require regular cleaning and other maintenance.
San Francisco’s scuba divers, on the other hand, are
eager to experience an undersea world containing more
than 38,000 animals. The museum’s volunteer program
should make both parties happy, but it’s not open to
just anyone—applicants must be experienced, certified
rescue divers to qualify.
Nine plant species—four perennials
and five annuals—were selected for
their ability to attract butterflies as
well as pollinating insects and birds.
“I wanted as much diversity as possible, and I
challenged Renzo on
this,” Paul Kephart says.
BY MASON CURRE Y
requirements. “I wanted as much diversity as possible, and I challenged Renzo on this,” Kephart
says. “He said, ‘Paul, this is all very interesting,
but it has to be beautiful.’” After a few “spirited
discussions,” the team chose four perennials and
five colorful annuals that live well together, are
low-growing (and thus “clean-looking”), and have
extensive green periods.
A further challenge surfaced when Piano explained that he wanted to transport and install the
plants without using petroleum-based plastic containers. Kephart responded by creating an innovative tray (soon to be patented) from coconut-husk
fiber, a waste product from coconut trees. This
BioTray is held together with natural latex and
lined with 36 strains of fungi, which supply nutrients to the plants. Laid in large numbers on the
roof like tiles, the trays degrade within three years,
leaving behind a colorful carpet of vegetation.
Piano’s grandest design gesture, the seven hills,
also posed an obstacle: How to keep the soil from
slipping down them? After an initial solution
involving concentric circles was rejected by Piano’s
office on visual grounds, the landscape designers
devised a drainage system using continued on page 150
BY SUZANNE LABARRE
The best thing about the research facilities at the Academy:
more space. “In the old place, if I collected lots of butterflies, we’d have less room for other groups, like ants,” says
Dr. Brian L. Fisher, who, incidentally, studies ants. “Now we
make decisions on what to collect based on scientific needs
rather than space.” The entomology department alone has
more than 44,000 slots for collection drawers in 560 movable cabinets, each taller than a basketball player, and it
includes a 1,700-square-foot fireproof room for insects
preserved in alcohol. Scientists prepare specimens in a vast,
below-grade lab pod as natural light filters in, or behind a
glass wall on the museum’s main floor. “Usually, we’re kept
in these little, dark rooms,” Fisher says. “This building is
letting us out.”
With 560 cabinets for specimen
drawers, there is room for both
ants and butterflies.