New Academy of Sciences to be green showcase

Bats will fly, two-toed sloths will hide and exotic snakes will soon be slithering their way around Golden Gate Park.

The California Academy of Sciences plans to reopen with a new twist in 2008, when it completes its $429 million rebuilding project in the park. The new museum will star the first living rain forest on display in the United States.

The academy broke ground on the 410,000-square-foot green building in September 2005. The academy is attempting to modernize the museum, which was originally built in the park in 1916 and has had more than 100 million visitors through the years. The academy sits near the newly renovated and reopened de Young Museum, which has drawn more than 1.6 million visitors in the last year since it reopened last year, according to John Buchanan, the museum’s director.

When completed, the structure will have rolling rooftops that will resemble the hills of The City, covered with native plants. While the outside of the new academy is designed to blend in with the park, the inside, starting with the rain forest, will be unique to San Francisco, according to the academy.

The 90-foot, glass-enclosed dome will be home to four floors of rain forest, with each level featuring life from a different part of the globe. A winding ramp, designed by roller coaster engineers, will wrap its away around the trees, and a glass elevator will dip under water to show what life is like below the surface of a rain forest.

“The idea is, this is a trip around the rain forests of the world,” said Christopher Andrews, the associate executive director of the academy. “We can replicate nature, [but] you can't recreate nature. Once nature is gone, it’s gone.”

The exhibit will be home more than 1,600 live animals, including reptiles, amphibians and more than 600 birds and butterflies. The glass skylights will let light into the museum, but high-powered synthetic lights also will be added to help replicate the conditions found in a rain forest, according to Stephanie Stone, communications officer with the academy.

The academy will also bring back popular sections of the old museum, such as the alligator tank, the Morrison Planetarium and the Steinhart Aquarium. The planetarium will feature new exhibits, and the aquarium will have a new two-story swamp, the world’s deepest living coral reef and a discovery tide pool.

Jes Pederson, the vice-president of the contractors Webcor Builders, said designing and constructing an energy-efficient green building for a museum that has such sensitive needs, such as the rain forest, was a challenge and took more than four years of planning.

“The most unique thing about this is it is unlike a hotel or something that you are dealing with 15 different occupants in it,” he said.

California Academy of Sciences Highlights

» A new four-story livable rain forest, the first in the United States. It will have more than 1,600 animals, including reptiles, amphibians, birds and butterflies.

» The Morrison Planetarium will reopen with new state of the art exhibits and digital technology.

» The Steinhart Aquarium will reopen with a two-story swamp, the world's deepest living coral reef display, a discovery tide pool, and hundreds of tanks with aquatic life.

» The ecologically friendly design of the new academy will feature a rooftop that looks like the hills of San Francisco. It will also have native plants living on it.

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