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Installation Profile: Intelligent Design

Feb 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Jack Kontney

How technology helps realize a thoroughly modern vision for the new home of one of our nation’s oldest museums.


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One of the California Academy of Sciences’ technology-intensive attractions is its Water Planet exhibit. The show plays from 7thSense Delta media servers to 10 ceiling-mounted projectiondesign F20 projectors. The show is projected to 10 edge-blended screens that are made up of a series of wave-shaped fiberglass walls that are embedded with fish tanks. Photo: Tim Griffith

One of the California Academy of Sciences’ technology-intensive attractions is its Water Planet exhibit. The show plays from 7thSense Delta media servers to 10 ceiling-mounted projectiondesign F20 projectors. The show is projected to 10 edge-blended screens that are made up of a series of wave-shaped fiberglass walls that are embedded with fish tanks.
Photo: Tim Griffith

Founded in 1853, the California Academy of Sciences (CAS) is one of the cultural jewels of the San Francisco area. It houses an aquarium, a natural history museum, and a planetarium, all under a 2.5-acre living roof — a roof covered with 1.7 million plants and wildflowers native to the area — in its new building in Golden Gate Park. The academy is also a cutting-edge research and education facility, which is also housed in a new $500 million building designed by famed Italian architect Renzo Piano. The impetus for rebuilding the academy was the damage that the academy's original building sustained in the Loma Prieta earthquake on Oct. 17, 1989.

In keeping with the academy's self-imposed green mandate, the building features a wide array of eco-friendly design assets, making it the largest public building to earn the top platinum rating for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) from the U.S. Green Building Council. Through a design that combines water efficiency, solar energy, natural light, ventilation, and other features, the new academy will use about 35 percent less energy compared to a typical building of its size.

While the building is drawing praise from architecture and ecology observers, the design and construction of the three museums within the academy and their AV infrastructure was every bit as daunting and impressive. The primary audiovisual design firm involved was Oakland, Calif.-based Teecom Design Group, which brought BBI Engineering of San Francisco on board as the primary integrator.

The rainforest environment spans four levels via a curving walkway. A field-recorded soundtrack by famed bio-acoustician Bernie Krause of Wild Sanctuary is played back through a dozen Tannoy Di5t loudspeakers on each level. Photo: Tim Griffith

The rainforest environment spans four levels via a curving walkway. A field-recorded soundtrack by famed bio-acoustician Bernie Krause of Wild Sanctuary is played back through a dozen Tannoy Di5t loudspeakers on each level.
Photo: Tim Griffith

“This was such a large project that we had a number of contracts within the academy, working with several outstanding design firms,” says Mark Roos, BBI vice president of engineering and the project lead. “So we acted as kind of a unifying force for many areas.” Among the other design firms involved were Visual Acuity in San Franciso, Cinnabar in Los Angeles, New Magic in Los Angeles, and Thinc Design in New York.

In terms of AV systems, various technologies cover a wide range of applications, from surround sound and blended multiple-projector videos to interactive exhibit experiences and comprehensive networking with local control. Such was the scale of the project that two additional project managers were assigned.

“At BBI, there is a company principal in charge on every project, plus one or more project managers, each responsible for different areas,” Roos says. In this case, there were two: Lisa Dunmeyer, primarily managing the first-floor exhibit areas, and David Kaufman, who handled the basement-level exhibits and AV system infrastructure.



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