Landmark museum to reopen as most energy-efficient institute on Earth
SF ExploratoriumFor some people, being green means changing their light bulbs.
For the Exploratorium, a San Francisco landmark and science center, the board of directors decided to implement a state-of-the-art science and technology institution from the ground up in hopes of becoming the world’s largest net-zero energy museum. After it moves to San Francisco’s Embarcadero, technology developed to take advantage of its new location on the bay will generate enough energy to sustain itself its operations and potentially create a surplus of power.
The process took almost a decade of planning, renovating and building. When the museum reopens April 17, visitors will notice that the new green technologies will be highlighted as exhibits on display. With its heavy investments in sustainability—including high-efficiency solar panels and an HVAC system that uses water from the San Francisco Bay to heat and cool the museum—the Exploratorium's hoping to lead by example, both for companies and everyday consumers.
"We want to be on the edge of innovation," Exploratorium director Dennis Bartels said. “There’s still a lot of debugging yet to be done. In the process, we all learn together so the technology keeps getting better and so the regular consumer doesn't have to take a big financial risk."
To be sure, the Exploratorium only has projections so far, but they are promising a solar roof that could power 300,000 square feet year-round, 1 million gallons of water saved annually and near-autonomous systems that require minimal maintenance.
Museum by the bay
Realizing the 100,000 square feet at the Palace of Fine Arts couldn't support the Exploratorium's visions, a search committee began scouting for a new location. By 2004, the San Francisco-based architectural firm EHDD began working with the museum on a design along the shoreline. Relocating to Pier 15 would triple the museum's available space, and Pier 17 would provide 2.5 acres for future expansion. The proximity to downtown would increase foot traffic, especially with bike paths and multiple public transportation hubs nearby.
Moving to Piers 15 and 17, which were built in 1915 and 1912, required repairing the dilapidated structures and supports. Still, despite this preservation challenge, Kristina Woolsey, who spearheaded construction as the project director, saw potential for record-setting sustainability.
Take, for example, the two large cisterns that sit below the beams connecting to the southeast pilings. Together, they can capture and store about 338,000 gallons of rain and fog runoff to use as gray water, with the rest returning to the bay after being filtered. Furthermore, dual-flush toilets and waterless urinals are expected to save 1 million gallons of water each year.
More impressive is the heating and cooling system. Instead of boilers or cooling towers, the museum leverages this body of water as a heat source and sink. "Temperature-controlled seawater," Building Operations Manager Chuck Mignacco said jokingly. The bay's moderate temperature fluctuates 55 to 65 degrees seasonally.
The Bay Water Heating and Cooling System—a massive collaborative effort between the museum, engineering firm Integral Group, EHDD architects and marine contractors from Power Engineering Construction Company and Nibbi Brothers General Contractor—will circulate about 73,800 gallons of water every hour through the floors, keeping the Exploratorium at a comfortable 71 degrees.