Though it sits within Shanghai's Jing An Sculpture Park, the building is designed to be more than inhabited art. It recycles rainwater through its green roof and minimizes solar gain using an intelligent building skin, while its oval courtyard pond helps cool the building. Geothermal energy regulates the building's temperature.The museum's collection comprises some 290,000 samples, including a complete, 140-million-year-old skeleton of the dinosaur Mamenchisaurus, and species which cannot be found outside China, such as Yellow River mammoth, giant salamander, giant panda, and Yangtze Alligator. Situated in Shanghai's Cotton Exchange Building since 1956, the natural history museum leaves its historic home for a building with 20 times the exhibition space and a design that looks forward, as well as back through the eons.
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This weekend a Shanghai museum got a new home, and its design takes a major cue from nature. The Shanghai Natural History Museum wraps 479,180 square feet of exhibition space with facades inspired by the elements, natural phenomena, and the biological structure of cells. Perkins + Will designed the structure, which expresses architectural themes found in nature. A green roof rises from the site plan, spiraling logarithmically like the shell of a nautilus. A 100-foot-tall atrium rises within that organizing geometry, transmitting natural light through a craggy lattice that mimics the shape and organization of living cells. Nature inspired the design of the building's other facades, too. Its eastern face is a living wall, complementing a north-facing facade of stone that the architects said suggests shifting tectonic plates and canyon walls eroded by rivers. The interaction of natural elements is also meant to invoke traditional Chinese landscape architecture. “The use of cultural references found in traditional Chinese gardens was key to the design,” Ralph Johnson, principal at Perkins + Will, said in a press release. “Through its integration with the site, the building represents the harmony of human and nature and is an abstraction of the basic elements of Chinese art and design.”
Last Saturday, the San Antonio community inaugurated the Lake|Flato Architects–designed Urban Ecology Center (UEC). Sited on the West Side of Phil Hardberger Park, the 18,600-square-foot UEC will be home to the Alamo Area Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists. This latest showpiece in the city’s park system will serve as a functional ecological system, a meeting space, and an urban ecology learning facility. Parks Project Manager Sandy Jenkins explained that the center was built with the intention of informing future generations about environmental concerns and the preservation of ecological systems. Former mayor Phil Hardberger, who recognized the asset of parks in improving the general urban quality of life, originally prompted the construction of the park in 2010. Covering 311 acres on eiter side of the Wurzbach Parkway, it was built as a means to preserve San Antonio's environmental treasures and natural heritage. The UEC is a $6.3 million LEED green project and was funded by the largest municipal bond program in San Antonio history. It is equipped with water harvesting and reclamation systems, which minimize both operational costs and impacts on the environment. The center is constructed out of sustainable materials and irrigated by an extensive rainwater collection system and a bio-swale that collects run-off, stores it into a detention basin, and reuses it when needed. It is also armed with photovoltaic solar panels capable of powering three average houses. The 8:00 a.m. opening attracted more than 500 visitors, including architects, neighbors, park employees, and environmental activists. It featured guided hikes, a wide array of presentations by civic leaders, green building and recycling awareness, and hands-on wildlife activities. The center embodies San Antonio’s communal effort to preserve its natural landscape and shows how the city has developed a sense of environmental stewardship. A significant amount of work still needs to be done, as only 60 percent of the park's construction has been completed.
The Boston Harbor Islands Pavilion roof channels rainwater for irrigation on the Rose Kennedy Greenway.Jump on a ferry in Downtown Boston and in twenty minutes, you’ll arrive at the Boston Harbor Islands, an archipelago of 34 islands dotting Boston Harbor managed by the National Park Service. To entice city-dwellers to make the trip, Boston-based Utile Architecture + Planning has designed a composite steel and concrete pavilion with a digitally fabricated roof for the National Park Service and the Boston Harbor Island Alliance to provide travel information and history about the Islands and a shady respite atop the highway-capping Rose Kennedy Greenway. Two thin overlapping concrete canopy slabs supported by delicate steel beams provide a sculptural shelter. Utile digitally designed the $4.2 million Boston Harbor Islands Pavilion using Rhino to respond to the surrounding cityscape and serve as a playful rainwater-harvesting system to irrigate the Greenway’s landscape. Initially working with a fountain consultant, the design team experimented with the shape of the roof deformation that guides rainwater to a catch basin. The roof’s unique shape was determined using digital models and by rolling BB’s over physical models to gauge how water would eventually behave on the surface. “We realized in modeling the pavilion that the water would ‘prefer’ to follow the same axis through both pavilion roofs,” Tim Love, principal at Utile, said. “Turning the curve would have created unintended consequences in the flow of the water.” The final shape propels water from the symmetric top roof, onto the asymmetrical lower roof, gaining speed as the concrete pinches together and funneling down to what the architects described as a “giant scupper,” finally cascading into a sculptural catch basin on the ground designed to create different splash patterns depending on how hard it's raining. “The roof pinches in as closely as possible to control the flow of the water,” Chris Genter, project architect at Utile, said. The arc of the water had to be precise enough to land in the catch basin, “like water pouring from the spout of a pitcher.” Supporting the two 40-foot by 60-foot roofs, a series of steel beams form a sort of Gothic tracery, splitting in half to reduce the effective span of the concrete and minimizing the overall depth of the slab by requiring less rebar. The roof slabs vary in thickness from three-and-a-half inches at the perimeter to five-and-a-half inches at the center. “We were always interested in making the primary material concrete with as slim a profile as possible,” Love said. “The concrete structure enters into discourse with the heritage of concrete architecture in Boston and responds to the heroic modernism of Boston City Hall.” “The steel beams offered enough repetition that they began to look like contour lines,” Love said. “They allow you to more easily read the curve of the slab.” Each metal band, what Genter described as a sort of steel “fettucini,” was fabricated directly from the digital model, first laser cut and then bent to the correct shape using CAD-CAM technology. “You typically don’t see these kind of geometries in permanent structures,” Love said. “There was a lucky convergence of high ambitions all around.” In generating the digital model for the pavilion, the team had to ensure that the data was clear for the multiple fabricators involved in the process. “The curves had to form a describable surface,” Love said. “The model and its geometries had to be translatable to different fabrication processes. The model for the project literally became the model for fabrication.” Working with two separate materials built from the same digital model presented real world challenges when fitting the two together. “The project required more craft in the field than we initially thought,” Genter said. Each steel beam is made up of four pieces welded together and required more room for error in fabrication. On site, the wooden concrete formwork was subtly changed to adapt to small variations in the shape of the steel. “The answer was to get fabricators on board who can get our model translated into the final product,” Love said, explaining that working with contractors on digitally fabricated projects can be a learning experience for everyone involved. “There were a lot of subspecialties working together.” Concrete contractor S+F Concrete brought millworker C.W. Keller on board to create the elaborate wooden mold for the concrete slab. For most of the surface, deformed plywood was used, but as the curve approached its spout, a custom mold was required. “The curve was beyond the tolerance of plywood,” Love said. “Every single piece of plywood in the formwork was pre-engineered before it arrived.” Once on site, the individual pieces were fit together like a puzzle.
The winter rains in the Bay Area, as usual, seem to be too much of a good thing. There's a fair number of flooded streets and general consternation about this stuff falling from the sky. But if we thought about it differently, it might seem more like manna from heaven. I did a little calculation this morning to see what was going down the drain. San Francisco is roughly 49 square miles and gets an average rainfall of 21 inches of rain per year, so if my math works out, that means about 18 billion gallons a year are largely thrown out as garbage (SF, like a lot of major cities, has a combined sewer system that processes rainwater as sewage.) The US consumed 8.6 billion gallons of bottled water in 2008, making it a multibillion-dollar industry. If SF harvested half of its rainwater, we could corner the US bottled water market! Amusing speculations aside, the concept of saving our wastewater is starting to catch on. Last Thursday, at a salon organized by Re: Vision and architect Michelle Kaufmann, Rosey Jencks of the SF Public Utilities Commission talked how to re-engineer the cityscape to keep as much as 30 percent of the rainwater out of the sewers. Here in SF, recent legislation requires all construction projects with a footprint greater than 5,000 square feet to have onsite stormwater management--which could take on the form of green roofs, cisterns, permeable paving, and other features, according to the city's Stormwater Design Guidelines. (An aside: Chicago appears to have beaten other cities to the punch in paving city streets with permeable concrete.) Meanwhile, the PUC has also come up with a whole series of projects, many which bring a sense of romance to the mission. We don't have a river here, as in L.A., but there are a couple of creeks that are good candidates for daylighting. Revealed instead of snaking underground through pipes, Islais Creek--which runs through the neighborhoods of Glen Park and Mission Bay (as shown in Jencks' slide above)--could be the grand public stroke, the visible symbol of the city connecting to its watershed. Like the other PUC projects, it's a question of getting the money to do it. Maybe the city could raise funds by selling its own overpriced bottled water ?