A visit to the California Academy of Science

An architectural analyses of Renzo Piano's platinum LEED building 5 years later.

North west view of the California Academy of Science from the De Young's Museum watchtower. 

North west view of the California Academy of Science from the De Young's Museum watchtower. 

During my first visit to San Francisco in early Spring 2008, I found myself in the watchtower of the De Young Museum (built by Herzog & De Meuron), doing what all architects love --visiting cool buildings. After a few minutes of taking in the amazing 360 degree views of the city, I noticed the peculiar structure directly across (ref photo above).  Oddly enough, the roof reminded me of the land of Teletubbies. I'm sure this was unintentional, but let’s be frank -- I wasn’t the only one at the time playing building association with the home of Dipsy, Laa-Laa, Po and Tinky Winky. Regardless of my strange observation, my inner child thought, ”roof, me, play, now!” Unfortunately, the building was still under construction and I left San Francisco thinking I’d never know what was underneath Teletubbie land.

Fast forward 5 years. Due to the forces that be, I became an SF dweller and had no excuse but to finally go visit one of the Largest LEED Platinum projects of our time -- the quirky building with a green roof that looks like...well, you know.

Armed with my SLR in one hand, my archi-nerd glasses in the other (the imaginary version of Google glasses for architects) and having not read Architecture Records’ Jan. 2009 issue on the building (this was an obvious Google search), I approached the building like a virgin - carrying only my enthusiasm to explore, criticize and praise.

Before entering the building, I sat for a few minutes in the adjacent park, nestled in-between the De Young Museum and the Academy of Science. I noticed that guests used the center stairs as a gathering place or resting stop while they awaited their mode of transportation.

The following photographs mark my experience – and you're more than welcome to pretend you too have on my archi-nerd glasses. Click on image and it will direct you to the Flickr set.  

The following photographs mark my experience – and you're more than welcome to pretend you too have on my archi-nerd glasses. Click on image and it will direct you to the Flickr set.  

One of my first observations was how the building’s program was stated on its facade. The North end was designed using classical architecture versus the West's precast concrete. This decision subconsciously tells the visitor that one side  deals with History and the other with current technology. In addition, the entrance’s glass facade pulls the visitor in and provides them with their first glimpse of what’s inside. Once I entered the building, I was overwhelmed by the sounds of children and visual information. This sensory overload caused me to run to the info desk, grab a map, and quickly find a place of refuge. I had three choices: go left, go through another glass facade, or go right. I choose to go through the glass facade that took me to a Piazza.

While studying the building floor plan and deciding where to go next, I looked over and noticed a class they were having for kids, observing how the sun (though glaring throughout the piazza) shaded the stage area. So naturally, as all architects do, I looked up. Talk about fancy structure.The entire ceiling of the Science Center is very elaborate, even boasting an inverted glass dome held by a steel truss system. The truss system plays a double role, as it holds shades that appear adjustable. How are those shades controlled and moved? Your guess is as good as mine (I’m sure that archrecord issue covers it).

After my breather, I went ahead and started my walkthrough. I loved the polished concrete floors and the wood decking used to separate certain areas. These features create boundaries and keep visitors on a given path due to the different materials. That's what I call subliminal archi-psychology at its finest.

Another element I took note of (thanks to my previous life as an exhibit designer?) was the flexibility the building gave to changing exhibits. What do I mean by this? Well, for starters, the tilt-up concrete was deliberately pre-cast with small holes that function as anchor points for both the building signage and graphics. Why is this cool in my book? It allows the museum to change exhibits without compromising the building's integrity (drilling holes in walls would be a sad nono). In other words, the building’s aesthetics stay sharp year round. Also, the building trusses have pre-welded loops that allow for hanging points for temporary exhibit structures. This tells me that flexibility was non-negotiable in early programming stages.

However, with the good comes the bad. I found noise pollution in certain areas a great distraction. I know they were conscious of this issue, as they added an extensive amount of acoustical tiles in all main corridors and open areas. On a much brighter note, the building materials of concrete and fake colonnades hint at a statement of weight and mass, even though the glass on all four facades allows the light to penetrate through. This gives it a nice open feel,as do the soft cool textures and light palette.

After walking through Africa and a swamp, watching the penguins, getting lost in the Aquarium,and trying to convince a parrot to come home with me, I wiggled my way to the third floor and found (cue heaven white tunnel sound), the sign for the Living Roof. I was exhausted, but after all, this was numero uno on my must-see list, so I’d saved the best for last. I climbed the stairs (since that's the eco thing to do, right?), and after a minute of picturing the Teletubbies bouncing around, I started reading the graphic panels and tried to imagine the building as a smart, self-sustaining machine. It's fair to say there's a lot going on with the building methods and sustainability practices and to fully capture everything, I’d need several more visits. However, the notable ones -- their living roof and solar technology -- make you wonder why all buildings don’t adhere to these practices. But, that’s a story for another day.

In conclusion, along with the gorgeous views of the park, my journey had come to an end. I learned so much on what Renzo was thinking just by visiting, and I encourage others to do the same -- whether it's to admire the building or to simply come and play for the day.


10 steps to Become the Baddest Bitch!

Arya from the Game of Thrones. 

Arya from the Game of Thrones. 

Lately I’ve been on a role -- attending conferences and reading books that empower women to be better advocates for themselves. Call it sequestered feminism, but along the way I’ve gathered enough information to pick out several underlying issues. When it comes to becoming the baddest bitch (the term Sheryl Sandberg was called after a keynote speech), I’ve been able to compose a list on how to do so. Although this list might seem like a paraphrase of the book Lean In, it was mostly devised after attending panels such as: Elevating the role of Women in Architecture, the missing 32% symposium, and a synopses of Tara Mohrs practices on coaching brilliant women. In conclusion, I’m going to save you hours of reading and panel discussions. The following list were the overlapping key topics within each talk. 

10 Rules Amazing Women follow:

1- Letting go of self doubt and self-deprecation:

We’ve all heard that inner voice that tells us we suck. The one that nags at us and shouts out 24/7, we’re ugly, fat and stupid -- to this voice we must learn to tell it to go to hell. Of course that’s easier said than done. Writers such as Tara Mohr, agree that with practice, you can tame your inner critic and learn to identify when it’s being a nuisance. Just as Ayra from the Game of Thrones would tell death, “not today”, we can say “what is the one thing we say to the inner critic?, not today inner critic, not today.”

2- Know your stuff without sounding like Mrs. Bossypants:

At my last firm I accompanied the project manager to several meetings for Apple Corp. From the very beginning, I felt like an outcast. It was usually my coworker and I in a room of 6-8 men. Although we were always outnumbered, I was constantly impressed by how my coworker (also a woman), was able to facilitate these meetings. You could tell that by her being uber prepared, and answering questions quickly, she’d gained the respect of all men in the room. Knowing her stuff, or as known in a colloquial sense “having her shit together”, made her voice at the round table matter. So in conclusion, if you're a woman in a room of men, set the tone from the very beginning. Let it be known you know your stuff, and you're not just there to look pretty. In addition, never forget the essence that makes you a women. Being tactful and approachable will take you further than being a know it all. My mother calls this tactic, being the Nicest Bitch ever. Since you probably don’t have the sailor mouth of my mother, you can use Sheryl Sandberg's term, being “relentlessly pleasant”. Now remember, to be authentically nice and not fake. People can read when you're being a hypocrite.

3- Don’t wait to start a family until conditions are perfect:

Somewhere between 25-35 many women contemplate having children. They’re waiting for the right moment, the right guy and the list goes on.  I’ve come to a conclusion after listening to numerous women talk, when it came to balancing work and homelife -- Breast pumping in a bathroom stall will never be appealing! So...you might as well let go of the notion that there will be a perfect time, a perfect place, a perfect anything. Regardless, if a company really loves and values you, they will make motherhood possible. Furthermore, who want’s to work for a company who deprives you of a chance to have a family? That should be a red flag within itself.

4- Learn to take criticism:

If there’s one thing I do appreciate from the architecture profession and education, is that I can withstand my fair amount of criticism. We hear criticism all day long; from our boss, our clients, and even our inner mentor. Being criticized just comes with the territory. However, not all people are as lucky as me ( if you can call this being lucky). Learning to put your ego aside, and listen to the bad and the ugly, will optimally make you a better person -- a better professional. In addition, learning to ask the question “how could I’ve done better”, will not only help you see yourself through others eyes, but also let others know, you want to improve. Consequently, this will help you get further along in your profession.

5- Step out of your comfort zone, embrace change and challenges:

Being afraid to try new things, for example change jobs, is one of my biggest weakness. I’ve eventually worked up enough courage to do so (although getting there is quite the psychological process). Being afraid of change and challenge has most importantly set me back professional. However, just as I’m ready to stop beating myself up for it, I believe many women should also try and take a chance on themselves. Go out and challenge yourself! If it doesn’t work out you can at least say, you tried. Never lay in a stagnant position, always move forward. Set timelines and goals, while visualizing yourself completing each one. Now. Tell me how great does that feel? I’m personally fond of 2-do list’s.

6- Bring in New Business:

Trudi Hummel a partner at Gould Evans stated in the last symposium for the missing 32% (an AIA sponsored talk), that the ability to bring in new business is what could potentially make you, an indispensable employee. If you can fine tune your communication skills, and use your caregiving and communal charm to woo people, your a golden girl. Instantaneous, you’ll become a leader and one of your company's most valuable asset’s. Whatever you do, try to stay away from the methods used by Jones on Mad Men -- we all see how bad that turned out. Don’t use those types of charms. Keep it classy ladies!

7- Stop comparing yourself:

If you’re thinking, yeah right? Who are you kidding? That’s okay, it’s only human to compare ourselves to others. But first ask yourself if their position is well deserved? How did they get to where they are? If you’ve not worked just as hard, why should you expect to have their same luxuries and position? Instead stop being a hater and learn from them. If anything they should be your inspiration, maybe even your mentor. Once you have performed just as well as your mentee, whatever you do, never use them to compare to. If you’re looking for a raise and storm into HR, always use examples of your accomplishments to convince them. Again, never compare yourself to others!

8- Being a problem solver is the most valuable asset in any profession:

Thinking back at all my previous bosses and work experiences, one underlying factor sticks out the most. Your superiors do not have all the answers. Sometimes they don’t even know what’s going on. No matter where you fall in the line of command, your ability to act quickly and solve problems, is the only thing that will gain your respect and recognition. Being a problem solver is the one aspect in your career that will take you all the way to the top. In addition, volunteering to do things that no one else wants to, can help make you indispensable -- even if that means filling the coffee pot with water before anyone else.

9- Face it, perfection is never happening:

I’ve always joked around with my friends that perfection was just around the corner. After a decade of chasing it, it’s fair to say it will never happen. As women we try to hard to please everyone, and feel great sadness when we can’t give our hundred percent. Within our juggling act of family, work and friends, something often falls. Men are much more equipped at saying no, and not pleasing everyone. What makes it worst is they hardly feel any guilt afterwards. Face it friends, 80% is okay. The remainder 20% we can leave to those unexpected curve-balls.

10- No one likes you get over it!

Okay so that sounded a bit harsh, but recently I learned about the Howard/Heidi Harvard study (thanks again Sandberg). A professor gave out a class assignment to analysis an entrepreneur. The catch was, he changed the sex of the subject for half the class. When he asked the students to access the entrepreneurs personalities, they all agreed that they wouldn’t want to work for the women. Even though she was just as competent as the man. Why? Well...society frowns upon assertive women. So bottom line...if you’re a women, and display leadership skills, you will not be everyone's cup of tea, and that’s just human Psychology. So keep on truckin, not everyone is going to like you. Nevertheless, always try to embrace the spirit of Lincoln; be humble, be kind, do not condemn, complain or criticize. Surely if you practice a few of these, like my momma saids "you'll be the nicest bitch ever", and you'll have an easier time having people  embrace you and your ideas. 

So there you have it folks, the holy grail for becoming the Baddest Bitch.  Not every women want’s to be a Leader and this is fine, but for those who do, I hope this list motivates you to become a more assertive and confident women. For now I’m just happy I was able to finally summarize all those wonderful talks.