Monday, December 1, 2008

A Living Roof

This past Saturday I went to the recently re-opened Academy of Science in Golden Gate Park. While I was certainly giddy and in child-like awe of the aquarium and 'gators, and even the 3-D Bug Movie(narrated by none other than Dame Judi Dench herself!), the main draw for me was both the 4-story indoor rainforest and the "living roof".
The rainforest is inside a giant glass-enclosed sphere which itself was within the museum. A pedestrian ramp swirls up the inner walls of the globe, eventually halting at the canopy where an elevator takes the visitor all the way down to aquarium level below the globe. Pretty nifty!

And now up to the rooftop! The goal of the Academy and the architect was to basically give the feeling that a piece of Golden Gate Park was lifted up and a museum was tucked underneath it. Now much of the park wasn't really designed or planted with native species. But this living roof indeed was. Nine native plants were chosen to cover the entire roof, with some areas having a couple extra species(those, for example, shaded by the viewing terrace and hills). The most prominently noticeable species was the purple Prunella vulgaris, seen here:

Because the plants chosen are native to the area, there is really no need for additional watering or adding nutrients or fertilizers...and any extra rain water not soaked up by the plants is collected in a system of trays below the soil. The best way to describe how the roof is constructed is to show this diagram:

(courtesy of, Chronicle graphic by Joe Shoulak)

A fellow San Francisco garden blogger whom I admire wrote a fantastic piece on the Living Roof. For more historical and scientific details I'll send you over to what he had to say about it: meet Philip @

Out on the viewing terrace of the roof, I noticed there is no visitor access to the majority of the roof. There is a simple rectangular viewing pad. I would have liked to take a stroll around, meander through the rolling hills and such. But I do understand that this may take space away from plantings and increase the chances of disturbing the plants. So I suppose I'm content with admiring it from afar.

"But I want to go THEEEERRREEE!"


  1. Who does your photography work? It's amazing and so professional looking ;)

  2. Ronnie!

    I just loved your take on the Academy...Yes, don't you just want to explore instead of being a static viewer?
    Ronnie, that was so nice of you to mention me. I am so pleased to have met you, and I love your blog.
    I enjoyed your post on the Academy.
    With great Blotanical friendship,

  3. Awesome post! Thanks for the peek.

  4. I still haven't been over there yet. Need to do that!