Architect Focus
Marc L'Italien

The Exploratorium in San Francisco has relaunched in its new home, with the aim of being the largest net zero energy museum in the US. EHDD principal Marc L’Italien tells us more

By Magali Robathan | Published in Leisure Management 2013 issue 3


How did you get involved with the Exploratorium?
My first run in with the Exploratorium was as a young architect in 1991 when they sponsored a design charrette with three teams made up of artists, landscape architects and architects. I was on a team with Joseph Esherick, the founder of my firm, and landscape architect George Hargreaves among others. The lively discussions during those few days gave me great insight into this wonderful institution.

Why did the museum need to move?
I don’t think Frank Oppenheimer, the Exploratorium’s founder, ever saw the Palace of Fine Arts as a permanent home. They had long since outgrown their space and were no longer able to adequately serve their visitors. They also train teachers who teach science in elementary schools and had to turn away two out of three applicants due to the inadequacies of their former home.

What was your vision for the museum?
To create a transformative place along the San Fransisco waterfront that furthers the mission of the Exploratorium, the world’s leading institution of science, art and perception.
We wanted to celebrate a much more public and dynamic site for the museum, and to place architecture, landscape and exhibits on equal footing, creating a holistic environment that fosters inquiry and that sustains the environment.

Can you briefly describe the design of the new Exploratorium?
The Exploratorium’s new home is the renovation of an ageing pier, where architecture, art, science and site converge. It elevates the museum’s mission as both a destination for experiential exhibits and a research and development facility that creates innovative ways to teach and learn.

Visibility, public access and flexibility drove the planning and design. Situated midway between Ferry Plaza and Pier 39, the new Exploratorium brings to life a previously dormant stretch of San Francisco's historic Embarcadero waterfront, the city’s front porch. Almost three times larger than its previous site, the new campus uses bay water as a basis for many new outdoor exhibits as well as to control the temperature of the museum.

The complexity of the brief – to design an ultra-flexible building to support an ever-changing array of exhibits in keeping with the Exploratorium's culture of inquiry – was matched by the challenge of rehabilitating an existing historic structure in the most energy-efficient manner possible. Pier 15 was renovated to maintain its own historic character and the tinkering studio atmosphere of the old Exploratorium. More like an artist’s studio or an experimental laboratory than a place of display, the building takes advantage of the original pier building's daylight and the water of the bay for cooling, and uses materials that are both sustainable and durable enough to withstand a harsh maritime climate. The goal is for the Exploratorium to be the USA's largest net zero energy museum. This, combined with the Exploratorium's reputation as a hub of innovation, will make the building an industry model for what's possible in energy efficiency.

A promenade encircling Pier 15 and an outdoor plaza between the piers enables free interactive outdoor exhibits, Exploratorium explainers, captivating the general public and passers-by with the direct experience of the surrounding bay and the city. This experience begins at the water’s edge to a point 820 feet off-shore. (Pier 15 is the length of a New York City block, avenue to avenue) The plaza and the hum of activity is the new marquee –no signage required.

Can you give some more details about the sustainability of the building?
We designed a building that incorporates many energy-efficient elements aimed at producing all of its energy needs on site. For example, the 1.3-megawatt photovoltaic array on the roof is equivalent to powering 1,000 average American homes over the course of a year, or removing 5,900 automobiles from our highways. Bay water is brought in and run through a heat exchanger to affect the temperature of a separate closed freshwater loop running through the floor. This second loop contains 40 miles of plastic pipe moving over 73,000 gallons per hour to change the temperature of the space. Less overhead ducts were required as a result.

All new windows use high performance triple element glazing to better insulate the building and admit copious amounts of natural light, further reducing reliance on electricity. Sixteen per cent of roof run-off is captured in cisterns and sterilised prior to flushing toilets. What isn’t stored is filtered and returned to the bay.

What was the state of the original pier structure?
The substructure of the pier was heavily damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. Our design combined repairs to existing pilings with insertion of new mega piles at the four corners of the pier. These large piles were connected by a new structural slab poured over the existing floor that knits it all together, creating a stiff platform that can withstand major temblors. This allowed us to repair just over a third of the existing 15,000 piles supporting the pier.

A large service lot that had been built in the 1950s to conjoin the piers was removed to create the new open plaza. Pilings were left to mark the tide movement and serve as anchorage for temporary exhibit installations.

Seismic bracing was inserted as required in the renovated transit shed. The structure is painted a uniform color to maximize light reflectance and minimize glare, but also to allow it to recede from view. The new structure is fabricated using round pipe to differentiate it from the older structure. Structure is celebrated but never steals the show.

What is your favourite part of the new building?
The Fisher Bay Observatory building, the only new structure, is an elegant two-story steel pavilion at the east end of Pier 15 that contains an open plaza designed in collaboration with landscape architect Gary Strang. The Observatory stands out with its taut façade. The building uses fritted glass to mitigate heat gain and reduce bird strikes, and houses the Seaglass Restaurant and the ticketed Fisher Bay Observatory Gallery, which offers views of the open water, maritime traffic, Treasure Island and the Bay Bridge, as well as the surrounding landscape.

What were the biggest challenges of this project?
Balancing the environmental needs and historic stewardship was a particular challenge. The more you err toward the historic, the more you sacrifice energy-efficiency, whereas the most energy-efficient designs lose the history and uniqueness of a place. Our design strikes a balance.

What drew you to a career in architecture?
I drew voraciously and liked making things when I was a child. I could lose myself for hours and my mother had to pry me away from my creations.

How did you start your career?
My first degree in architecture was at the University of Michigan. From there I worked for four years in Dallas, Austin and New York City prior to pursuing my graduate degree at Yale University. My early mentors in New York were Alan Buchsbaum and Frederic Schwartz. Fred remains a trusted friend, confidant and collaborator.

How would you describe your philosophy when it comes to architecture?
I believe in a powerful architecture that moves people beyond the building itself. I’m drawn to how humans engage with architecture and make it their own, after the architect’s work is done. I believe in a timeless, elegant architecture that responds directly to specific needs that can easily adapt to changing times.

Where do you get your inspiration from?
My inspirations come from my fascination with history and my love of popular culture, and what seems relevant to my time. Most of my projects have real clients with whom I work closely throughout the process. I get my inspiration from drawing out the essence of their mission and project and developing ideas from that.

I’m most proud when my design ideas come directly from the organisations that commission me.

I am moved when my clients take ownership of something we’ve developed jointly. I’m moved by craft, quality, developments in modeling and fabrication technologies, lasting materials and most of all, the nuance of a design.

Who do you admire in architecture?
I admire my mentors, who have believed in me. One of my heroes is Louis Kahn, whose buildings continue to inspire me 40 years after his death.

Where is your favourite place on earth?
In the passenger car compartment of a speeding train, glass of wine in hand, seeing the scenery pass by and hearing the locomotive’s whistle call to far away places. This could be in any country, at any time of year, and I will never tire of it.

What do you love most about your job?
All of the fabulous people I have met over the years doing my work.

I have a large staff of incredibly talented and passionate individuals who have taught me a great deal over the years and helped me develop ideas and realise the work.
I also love the variety in our projects and clients and how that has allowed me to travel to new places.

And the least?
The administrative duties of running a practice and needing to get the work that feeds the machine. I also hate deadlines, yet my life is ruled by them.

Is EHDD currently working on any other leisure projects?
We’re involved in a project to house the decommissioned Space Shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
We are also currently renovating the historic Toledo Zoo Aquarium in Ohio [due to reopen in 2015].


THE EXPLORATORIUM
The Exploratorium science and arts museum was founded in the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco in 1969 by physicist and educator Frank Oppenheimer.

Oppenheimer believed that visitors would learn about science and technology by manipulating laboratory apparatus, and the Exploratorium was one of the first American museums to use hands-on, interactive exhibits.

Oppenheimer served as the museum’s director until just before his death in 1985. Today it is led by science education and policy expert Dr Dennis Bartels.

The museum began to outgrow its home in the Palace of Fine Arts, and closed in January 2013, reopening in April 2013 in its new home at Pier 15 on San Francisco’s Embarcadero. The new building was designed by EHDD architects, and is triple the size of the museum’s old home. As well as the exhibition space, it features a restaurant, café, a museum store and an event space called The Forum.

It was designed to be energy efficient, and features the city’s largest building-mounted photovoltaic array.

The Living Systems gallery frames the view of the Bay as the exhibits investigate the world it looks out on Credit: ALL PHOTOS: www.brucedamonte.com
The Fisher Bay Observatory and Terrace look east towards the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Credit: ALL PHOTOS: www.brucedamonte.com
The renovated pier was once occupied by the San Francisco Port of Embarkation Credit: ALL PHOTOS: www.brucedamonte.com
Frank Oppenheimer Credit: ALL PHOTOS: www.brucedamonte.com
Outside, changing exhibits interface with the water to interpret the Bay Credit: ALL PHOTOS: www.brucedamonte.com
 


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Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385

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SELECTED ISSUE
Leisure Management
2013 issue 3

View issue contents

Leisure Management - Marc L'Italien

Architect Focus

Marc L'Italien


The Exploratorium in San Francisco has relaunched in its new home, with the aim of being the largest net zero energy museum in the US. EHDD principal Marc L’Italien tells us more

Magali Robathan, CLAD mag
Marc L’Italien
The Living Systems gallery frames the view of the Bay as the exhibits investigate the world it looks out on ALL PHOTOS: www.brucedamonte.com
The Fisher Bay Observatory and Terrace look east towards the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge ALL PHOTOS: www.brucedamonte.com
The renovated pier was once occupied by the San Francisco Port of Embarkation ALL PHOTOS: www.brucedamonte.com
Frank Oppenheimer ALL PHOTOS: www.brucedamonte.com
Outside, changing exhibits interface with the water to interpret the Bay ALL PHOTOS: www.brucedamonte.com

How did you get involved with the Exploratorium?
My first run in with the Exploratorium was as a young architect in 1991 when they sponsored a design charrette with three teams made up of artists, landscape architects and architects. I was on a team with Joseph Esherick, the founder of my firm, and landscape architect George Hargreaves among others. The lively discussions during those few days gave me great insight into this wonderful institution.

Why did the museum need to move?
I don’t think Frank Oppenheimer, the Exploratorium’s founder, ever saw the Palace of Fine Arts as a permanent home. They had long since outgrown their space and were no longer able to adequately serve their visitors. They also train teachers who teach science in elementary schools and had to turn away two out of three applicants due to the inadequacies of their former home.

What was your vision for the museum?
To create a transformative place along the San Fransisco waterfront that furthers the mission of the Exploratorium, the world’s leading institution of science, art and perception.
We wanted to celebrate a much more public and dynamic site for the museum, and to place architecture, landscape and exhibits on equal footing, creating a holistic environment that fosters inquiry and that sustains the environment.

Can you briefly describe the design of the new Exploratorium?
The Exploratorium’s new home is the renovation of an ageing pier, where architecture, art, science and site converge. It elevates the museum’s mission as both a destination for experiential exhibits and a research and development facility that creates innovative ways to teach and learn.

Visibility, public access and flexibility drove the planning and design. Situated midway between Ferry Plaza and Pier 39, the new Exploratorium brings to life a previously dormant stretch of San Francisco's historic Embarcadero waterfront, the city’s front porch. Almost three times larger than its previous site, the new campus uses bay water as a basis for many new outdoor exhibits as well as to control the temperature of the museum.

The complexity of the brief – to design an ultra-flexible building to support an ever-changing array of exhibits in keeping with the Exploratorium's culture of inquiry – was matched by the challenge of rehabilitating an existing historic structure in the most energy-efficient manner possible. Pier 15 was renovated to maintain its own historic character and the tinkering studio atmosphere of the old Exploratorium. More like an artist’s studio or an experimental laboratory than a place of display, the building takes advantage of the original pier building's daylight and the water of the bay for cooling, and uses materials that are both sustainable and durable enough to withstand a harsh maritime climate. The goal is for the Exploratorium to be the USA's largest net zero energy museum. This, combined with the Exploratorium's reputation as a hub of innovation, will make the building an industry model for what's possible in energy efficiency.

A promenade encircling Pier 15 and an outdoor plaza between the piers enables free interactive outdoor exhibits, Exploratorium explainers, captivating the general public and passers-by with the direct experience of the surrounding bay and the city. This experience begins at the water’s edge to a point 820 feet off-shore. (Pier 15 is the length of a New York City block, avenue to avenue) The plaza and the hum of activity is the new marquee –no signage required.

Can you give some more details about the sustainability of the building?
We designed a building that incorporates many energy-efficient elements aimed at producing all of its energy needs on site. For example, the 1.3-megawatt photovoltaic array on the roof is equivalent to powering 1,000 average American homes over the course of a year, or removing 5,900 automobiles from our highways. Bay water is brought in and run through a heat exchanger to affect the temperature of a separate closed freshwater loop running through the floor. This second loop contains 40 miles of plastic pipe moving over 73,000 gallons per hour to change the temperature of the space. Less overhead ducts were required as a result.

All new windows use high performance triple element glazing to better insulate the building and admit copious amounts of natural light, further reducing reliance on electricity. Sixteen per cent of roof run-off is captured in cisterns and sterilised prior to flushing toilets. What isn’t stored is filtered and returned to the bay.

What was the state of the original pier structure?
The substructure of the pier was heavily damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. Our design combined repairs to existing pilings with insertion of new mega piles at the four corners of the pier. These large piles were connected by a new structural slab poured over the existing floor that knits it all together, creating a stiff platform that can withstand major temblors. This allowed us to repair just over a third of the existing 15,000 piles supporting the pier.

A large service lot that had been built in the 1950s to conjoin the piers was removed to create the new open plaza. Pilings were left to mark the tide movement and serve as anchorage for temporary exhibit installations.

Seismic bracing was inserted as required in the renovated transit shed. The structure is painted a uniform color to maximize light reflectance and minimize glare, but also to allow it to recede from view. The new structure is fabricated using round pipe to differentiate it from the older structure. Structure is celebrated but never steals the show.

What is your favourite part of the new building?
The Fisher Bay Observatory building, the only new structure, is an elegant two-story steel pavilion at the east end of Pier 15 that contains an open plaza designed in collaboration with landscape architect Gary Strang. The Observatory stands out with its taut façade. The building uses fritted glass to mitigate heat gain and reduce bird strikes, and houses the Seaglass Restaurant and the ticketed Fisher Bay Observatory Gallery, which offers views of the open water, maritime traffic, Treasure Island and the Bay Bridge, as well as the surrounding landscape.

What were the biggest challenges of this project?
Balancing the environmental needs and historic stewardship was a particular challenge. The more you err toward the historic, the more you sacrifice energy-efficiency, whereas the most energy-efficient designs lose the history and uniqueness of a place. Our design strikes a balance.

What drew you to a career in architecture?
I drew voraciously and liked making things when I was a child. I could lose myself for hours and my mother had to pry me away from my creations.

How did you start your career?
My first degree in architecture was at the University of Michigan. From there I worked for four years in Dallas, Austin and New York City prior to pursuing my graduate degree at Yale University. My early mentors in New York were Alan Buchsbaum and Frederic Schwartz. Fred remains a trusted friend, confidant and collaborator.

How would you describe your philosophy when it comes to architecture?
I believe in a powerful architecture that moves people beyond the building itself. I’m drawn to how humans engage with architecture and make it their own, after the architect’s work is done. I believe in a timeless, elegant architecture that responds directly to specific needs that can easily adapt to changing times.

Where do you get your inspiration from?
My inspirations come from my fascination with history and my love of popular culture, and what seems relevant to my time. Most of my projects have real clients with whom I work closely throughout the process. I get my inspiration from drawing out the essence of their mission and project and developing ideas from that.

I’m most proud when my design ideas come directly from the organisations that commission me.

I am moved when my clients take ownership of something we’ve developed jointly. I’m moved by craft, quality, developments in modeling and fabrication technologies, lasting materials and most of all, the nuance of a design.

Who do you admire in architecture?
I admire my mentors, who have believed in me. One of my heroes is Louis Kahn, whose buildings continue to inspire me 40 years after his death.

Where is your favourite place on earth?
In the passenger car compartment of a speeding train, glass of wine in hand, seeing the scenery pass by and hearing the locomotive’s whistle call to far away places. This could be in any country, at any time of year, and I will never tire of it.

What do you love most about your job?
All of the fabulous people I have met over the years doing my work.

I have a large staff of incredibly talented and passionate individuals who have taught me a great deal over the years and helped me develop ideas and realise the work.
I also love the variety in our projects and clients and how that has allowed me to travel to new places.

And the least?
The administrative duties of running a practice and needing to get the work that feeds the machine. I also hate deadlines, yet my life is ruled by them.

Is EHDD currently working on any other leisure projects?
We’re involved in a project to house the decommissioned Space Shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
We are also currently renovating the historic Toledo Zoo Aquarium in Ohio [due to reopen in 2015].


THE EXPLORATORIUM
The Exploratorium science and arts museum was founded in the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco in 1969 by physicist and educator Frank Oppenheimer.

Oppenheimer believed that visitors would learn about science and technology by manipulating laboratory apparatus, and the Exploratorium was one of the first American museums to use hands-on, interactive exhibits.

Oppenheimer served as the museum’s director until just before his death in 1985. Today it is led by science education and policy expert Dr Dennis Bartels.

The museum began to outgrow its home in the Palace of Fine Arts, and closed in January 2013, reopening in April 2013 in its new home at Pier 15 on San Francisco’s Embarcadero. The new building was designed by EHDD architects, and is triple the size of the museum’s old home. As well as the exhibition space, it features a restaurant, café, a museum store and an event space called The Forum.

It was designed to be energy efficient, and features the city’s largest building-mounted photovoltaic array.


Originally published in Leisure Management 2013 issue 3

Published by Leisure Media Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385 | Contact us | About us | © Cybertrek Ltd