NASCC 2017

Night School


California Academy of Sciences Project Wins National Architecture and Engineering Award

Sustainable building with innovative design serves as model for the future

April 30, 2009 from American Institute of Steel Construction

(Chicago, IL) – The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco has earned national recognition in the 2009 Innovative Design in Engineering and Architecture with Structural Steel awards program (IDEAS2), and members of the project team will be presented with awards from the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) during a public ceremony in the Academy’s donor room on Friday, May 1 at 10 am. Conducted annually by AISC, the IDEAS2 awards recognize outstanding achievements in engineering and architecture on structural steel projects around the country.

Project team members include owner, California Academy of Sciences; owner’s project manager, D. R. Young Associates, San Rafael, Calif.; architect, Renzo Piano Building Workshop SRL, Genova, Italy; associate architect, Chong/Stantec, San Francisco; structural engineer Arup, San Francisco; fabricator/detailer/erector SME Steel Contractors, West Jordan, Utah; general contractor, Webcor Builders, San Francisco.

The California Academy of Sciences project is a National Award winner in the category of projects Greater than $75 million, making it one out of two projects in the country to earn an award in this classification. Each year, the IDEAS2 awards honor National and Merit award winners in three categories, based on constructed value: projects less than $15 million; projects $15 million to $75 million; and projects greater than $75 million. Each project is judged on its use of structural steel, with an emphasis on creative solutions to project requirements; design innovation; aesthetic and visual impact of the project; innovative use of architecturally exposed structural steel; technical or architectural advances in the use of steel; the use of innovative design and construction methods; and sustainable design.

Founded in 1853, the California Academy of Sciences is the largest cultural institution in San Francisco, one of the 10 largest natural history museums globally, and has a mission to explore and explain the natural world. The Academy's new $488 million Golden Gate Park home opened to the public last September and received a LEED Platinum rating, the highest rating possible, from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The building features an undulating 2.5-acre roof with a perimeter steel canopy supporting photovoltaic cells, a large glass skylight supported by a tensile net structure, a freestanding 90-foot-diameter planetarium dome, five separate iconic aquarium tanks and a 90-foot-diameter glazed dome housing a rainforest exhibit.

“I have made inquiries about this project and did not know that the undulating roof was created using steel,” commented Christina Koch, LEED AP, editor in chief, eco-structure and metalmag magazines, a judge in the competition. “It's a testament to the innovative shapes steel can create and how it can contribute to a highly sustainable structure.”

The undulating “Living Roof” is blanketed with 1.7 million native California plants and is one of the key building features. With seven “hills” mimicking the seven hills of San Francisco, the roof structure consists of a grillage of curved steel beam sections, some spanning up to 96 feet, supporting a contoured concrete slab. The curved steel beams form a structural skeleton where concrete skin was applied from above with the aid of temporary timber formwork to achieve a carefully contoured finished surface. This temporary formwork was taken into account in the design of the long-span steel beams as “shored composite construction,” thereby achieving significant savings in steel tonnage.

The combination of complex geometry architecturally exposed steel and necessary seismic detailing made the steel connection design a challenge. Three-dimensional computer modeling techniques were used extensively to create connection details that were both structurally and aesthetically acceptable. Once developed, these computer models were provided to the steel fabricators who then prepared their own computer models for final detailed shop drawings.

George Tuhowski, general superintendent, LEED AP, of Leopardo Construction, Hoffman Estates, Ill., said the project “shows the importance of structural steel in achieving both design and sustainable benchmarks.”

The Academy is embracing and attempting to embody nature in both form and function. With a projected 1.6 million visitors annually, the building itself will be an exhibition; an educational tool for the general public. The building’s sustainability features include: the Living Roof, which will reduce storm water runoff by at least half compared to a conventional roof; energy and solar panels to produce hot water and reduce air conditioning usage; natural outside light for at least 90-percent of regularly occupied space; and recyclable and renewable building materials such as structural steel.

The 11 IDEAS2 winners for 2009 were chosen from nearly 100 submissions received by architectural and engineering firms throughout the U.S. Each submission is reviewed and award winners are selected by a nationally recognized panel of design and construction industry professionals.

The IDEAS2 awards are the highest project-based awards bestowed by the structural steel industry, with the annual program dating back over 70 years to the earliest years of AISC’s existence. Roger E. Ferch, P.E. president of AISC, said, “The entire California Academy of Sciences project team has shown how structural steel can be used to create sustainable buildings that combine beauty and practicality. The result is a facility that serves its visitors extremely well, while providing an example of what can be achieved when designing and constructing projects with steel.”

Photos of the California Academy of Sciences project are available upon request. Please contact Tasha O’Berski at AISC via e-mail, [email protected], or by phone, 312.670.5439.


For more information contact:

Tasha O'Berski
Communications Department
(312) 670-5439
[email protected]


California Academy of Sciences


American Institute of Steel Construction
The American Institute of Steel Construction, headquartered in Chicago, is a not-for-profit technical institute and trade association established in 1921 to serve the structural steel design community and construction industry. AISC’s mission is to make structural steel the material of choice by being the leader in structural steel-related technical and market-building activities, including: specification and code development, research, education, technical assistance, quality certification, standardization, and market development. AISC has a long tradition of service to the steel construction industry of providing timely and reliable information. 

130 East Randolph St. Suite 2000
Chicago IL 60601
Phone: 312.670.2400
Fax: 312.626.2402