Sarah: It seems like you are doing some incredible projects. The way I learned about you was through researching the California Academy of Sciences*.
Paul: That‘s a spectacular project. Working with the design team of Renzo Piano and Gordon Chong, and SWA. What an absolute beautiful group of people to work with — talented, artistic, disciplined; and that vision that Renzo had was quite elegant.
From my perspective, the project addresses how to restore and encourage biodiversity in the urban sectors; what a great message, what a great venue. You know the Academy has a long tradition of exploring and explaining the natural world, and they have thousands of living organisms in collections and have been classified under the roof. Now the opportunity is to take that kind of experimentation in science and apply it in the built environment and as part of structure.
And that’s really where I’m going with my work; I want to define a new vernacular and a design style that don’t just look at green roofs and don’t just look at bioswales and grey water and passive solar, but to start to integrate all of these in a design process that really makes it a part of structure, not an amenity to or an apperturant feature of the design. That’s really on the cutting edge; that’s where a lot of our design work is going.
Sarah: So how far off is the California Academy of Sciences roof?
Paul:We are going to plant the roof most likely in 2007. It will be a spectacular project; it’s almost a two acre footprint and about an acre of planted roof on seven undulating domes. Two of the domes are almost 60 degree slopes. So, from an ecological standpoint, it simulates the slope, height, aspect and orientation of some of the hills that we have here in California. So the plant material we selected is kind of adapted to those micro climates on the roof.
Sarah: Is the California Academy roof going to be accessible to visitors?
Paul: It will be. We’re going to invite school children to participate and we hope to have studies on pollinators. We’ll have studies on invasive plants versus volunteers. There will be a school curriculum associated with sustainable architecture and urban ecology. We can study food webs and we are working to incorporate a study on the complexity of biodiversity and how interrelated species are within a food web.
There are so many opportunities that the California Academy roof will have for public information and interpretation about ecology, about sustainable architecture. And there is a viewing platform that will access the roof by guided tour, with information about the roof. It’s actually considered to be one of the exhibits.
[*Editor's note: this interview was originally conducted in 2006 and the California Academy of Sciences officially opened in 2008]