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California Academy of Sciences’ Living Roof

Location: San Francisco, Calif.

Background: Roof gardens can pose significant construction and maintenance challenges, and adding hills to the mix doesn’t make things easier. The crew behind the California Academy of Sciences’ living roof installed a multilayered soil-drainage system and chose to rely mainly on natural irrigation to nourish native plant species and minimize upkeep. In 2008, the building received LEED Platinum certification—the highest rating possible—partly because of the roof’s awesome insulation capabilities, which keep the building an average 10 degrees cooler than a typical roof would. 

Why It’s Unique: The garden’s two larger contours sync up to the planetarium and rainforest exhibitions down below, but the roof is as functional as it is aesthetically pleasing. “The mounds really came from the fact that when you look from afar, the backdrop is San Francisco’s hills,” says Bill Callaway of SWA Group. This leading landscape architecture and urban design firm helped design the Academy of Sciences’ living roof, and has worked on projects ranging from Google’s HQ to Burj Khalifa’s Tower Park. “So really what the architect was trying to do was echo those hills in the project by putting them on the roof.” By adding an open-air observation deck, the designers created an ideal location to watch the birds and the bees buzz around the lush plant life.





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