San Fransisco, CA: A newly-renovated California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park testifies to the beauty and practicality of environmentally-minded construction and architectural conscientiousness.
Achieving the project’s dual goals of flowing seamlessly into the surrounding park landscape and showcasing sustainable building design worthy of an organization dedicated to protecting the earth’s natural beauty called for a collaborative effort between Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano, Chong Partners and the Renzo Piano Building Workshop. Combining forces to create an integrative structure for the landmark natural history museum, architects, engineers and designers worked together to renovate and reconstruct the Academy of Sciences into a unified, green restoration.
The Academy of Sciences is expected to capture the U.S. Green Building Council’s coveted Platinum LEED certification — and be the largest public space yet to earn the honor. Attaining Platinum certification requires close attention to every detail of the design and construction process, and materials selection is one of the key elements judged for LEED points. The use of polished concrete flooring aides in LEED certification because, by eliminating the need for potentially corruptive applications such as carpets or tiles, it improves indoor air quality. The lack of adhesives and VOC equals better indoor air quality.
•Optimized daylight to illuminate the interior
•80% living roof coverage
•Photovoltaic cells integrated in the glazing
•Radiant floor heating will reduce energy needs by 5-10%
•Polished concrete flooring
• AIA: Academy of Sciences Evolving Green
• Green architecture in new Academy of Sciences
• Sneak Peek of Academy of Sciences
• Academy Construction Going Green
Drew Walters of general contractor Bulley and Andrews, a company familiar with concrete polishing says, “ Polished concrete does not have the VOC organic content that causes the new building scent. From a VOC standpoint there aren’t as many compounds in the air, which helps with LEED certification.” According toAn Engineer’s Guide to Building Green with Concrete, “ The U.S. government is adopting green building programs… many agencies are requiring LEED silver certification as a minimum… Concrete can be used in conjunction with the LEED program to earn certification.”
Polished concrete flooring was chosen for the Academy of Sciences to support environmental responsibility, LEED certification, and to fulfill the vision of architect Renzo Piano. Notably gracing the Academy’s central museum space, African Hall, and paving passageways and exhibit areas, the small-aggregate salt-and-pepper polished concrete was carefully considered for sustainability, environmental friendliness, and aesthetic impact. The 180,000 sq. ft. of polished concrete flooring served to keep the project’s environmental impact low while retaining architectural ideals. Jon McNeal, a member of the thirty-person architecture team, explains the choice:“ [The architectural] mandate to take the most sustainable route in materials made concrete the right fit for us because it essentially takes away the need to use other materials instead of adding.” . He continues, “ It is the idea of taking the frugal, necessary material concrete and treating it enough to make it elegant, clean, durable and beautiful…without painting or covering it up.” McNeal also adds that “ Polished concrete extends an earth-focused appeal to the building… it can be a study of an earth element in itself … the undulations, exposures, highs and lows in the look complement the story the museum is telling in its design.”
Concrete is an essential bedrock element to any new construction project, so finishing it without the environmental stress of harvesting, refining and transporting another product to the site means a substantial decrease in the footprint of the project—saving on everything from natural resources to the pollution and costs associated with shipping. In addition to aiding green design in new construction, concrete flooring is one of the simplest, cost-effective, and environmentally-sound flooring applications to maintain for the short and the long term. Even a locally harvested sustainable or recycled floor covering has to be collected, transported and eventually discarded and replaced—creating a vicious cycle. Polished concrete’s grind and polish finish is extremely sustainable because the core slab can be repolished every five to eight years to restore to original shine without the need for any other material. Concrete stands the test of time and will last as long as the Academy of Sciences itself.