Cal Academy's living roof comes alive

Architect Renzo Piano's vision for a green, living roof on the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco is a blooming success.
Written by Mary Catherine O'Connor, Contributing Writer

The green roof. It has become a key design element of the eco-friendly building. Beyond the lush aesthetic it lends a structure, a green roof can also reduce storm water runoff, boost a building's insulation, and improve air quality. But none of this can happen if the green roof fails to take root (or, if it collapses).

Which is why the news that the much-ballyhooed green roof atop the revamped California Academy of Sciences is taking root -- and is, in fact, thriving, according to the San Francisco Chronicle -- is so reassuring.

The roof, a product of the vision of the building's architect, Renzo Piano, isn't just green. It's living. In the three years since the building's debut, the 2.5 acres of living roof has become host to not only about 75 different species of  "herbs, shrubs, annuals, perennials, grasses, succulents and ferns," says the Chronicle, but also the animals needed to help those plants propagate and prosper.

The census of fauna include bees, red-winged and Brewer's blackbirds, white and West Coast lady butterflies, red-tailed hawks and nearly 175 different insects, spiders and crustaceans.

Piano's intent was for the roof to look as if the natural landscape in Golden Gate Park had never been built upon -- that the ground had, in fact, been heaved upward and that the building had been slipped in, underneath it.

So far, so good. Although fertile ground is never free of invaders. Uninvited tenants of the roof include the non-native Japanese anemone and buddleia, as well as willows that are blacklisted for not being drought-tolerant.

On the other hand, the desired and draught-tolerant yellow-blossomed Hooker's evening primrose, California fuchsia and beach strawberry have become more robust than expected.

The end result isn't just a pretty, undulating view that echos the beauty of the park around the building. The roof is also an educational extension of the museum it covers. Plus, visitors can come right up to the roof and get up close and personal with its inhabitants.

Photo: Marlith

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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