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continued from page 123 energy use by as much as
ten percent; a perimeter canopy of photovoltaic
cells (which Piano actually wanted to be green in
hue before Arup convinced him that a drabber
color would be more efficient) provides at least
five percent of the building’s power. And, while
the natural ventilation in the exhibit hall makes it
comfortable, Arup didn’t try to micromanage the
temperature, relying on a bit of pop psychology to
overcome modest fluctuations. “Because it’s such
a transparent building, you’re always aware of what
it’s like outside,” Lassetter says. “So people are
actually a lot more forgiving—if it’s cold and nasty
outside, they keep their pullover on, and they do
it automatically. They can actually tolerate colder
and warmer temperatures if they have that connection to the outdoors.”
Even the structural engineering reflected Arup’s
holistic approach. Since earthquakes represent an
existential threat to the institution—it has been effectively destroyed by them twice, first in 1906 and
again in 1989—great care was taken to protect
against the nearby San Andreas Fault. (One of the
highlights of the old Academy was an earthquake-simulation exhibit, a raised platform that mimicked
the queasy rolling of a major temblor, accompanied by scripted video of flimsy homes collapsing
and a cook dropping a huge pot of boiling water.
Sadly, it won’t reappear in the new building.) The
four corner concrete structures—African Hall, two
office-and-research buildings, and a pavilion holding the restaurant and gift shop—are independent
buildings with shear walls that, in a big earthquake, will rock back and forth as much as three-quarters of an inch in their foundations.
The way the engineers kept the whole thing
safely in one piece was by binding the four buildings with the roof. Each one acts as a sort of table
leg to which the roof attaches as a tabletop. “It’s
a great way of dissipating seismic forces, because
to pick an entire building up takes a lot of energy,” Lassetter says. “If you hold it down rigidly,
you’re using brute force to resist the earthquake.”
There’s a neat resonance here with Arup’s sustainability work on the Academy: instead of letting the
buildings succeed or fail on their own, the engineers hung them all together.
Making a building come alive is a tricky thing,
especially in one with so many (actual) balls in
the air. There is the danger of stitching together
too many gadgets without giving enough thought to
the whole. The roof somehow synthesizes the
building’s green attributes almost effortlessly. “It
could have ended up being a real Frankenstein,”
Rogers says, “trying to do energy production and
daylighting and natural ventilation and a green
roof all in one—but when you’re up there, you’re
like, It’s the way it should be. It just fits with the
Academy’s program and the park, and yet if you
had to sit down and design something that did all
°those things, it could be awful.”