INTERVIEW: Paul Kephart of Rana Creek

by , 07/05/11

green roof, rana creek, living wall, CABoom, paul kephart, freya bardell, sustainable design, green design, sustainable architecture, green architecture, living roof, green building, natural roofs, sustainable roofs, california academy of sciences

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.

green roof, rana creek, living wall, CABoom, paul kephart, freya bardell, sustainable design, green design, sustainable architecture, green architecture, living roof, green building, natural roofs, sustainable roofs, california academy of sciences

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]

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  1. Becky Bryan March 29, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    WOW. I am impressed with this guy. No woonder my mother always liked him best.

  2. Inhabitat » INTER... March 23, 2007 at 1:23 pm

    […] which combines the expertise of John Todd’s wetland-based system well as Rana Creek’s rainwater collection and wastewater remediation strategies. The project is truly a feat of not just […]

  3. Michael G. Richard July 28, 2006 at 5:37 am

    Green roofs are definitely up there (no pun intended), IMHO.

    Excellent interview, can’t wait for the rest.

  4. Inhabitat » Blog ... July 25, 2006 at 5:34 am

    […] Last week we published the first half of an interview with Paul Kephart of Rana Creek Habitat Restoration and Living Architecture. Paul has brought his ecological brilliance to the design tables of some of the world’s leading architects. But it’s not just the celeb-scale projects that excite him. In fact, Paul’s enthusiasm is clearest when he speaks of Rana Creek’s public projects, and of introducing principles of sustainability into urban communities where nature is scarce. […]

  5. Owen Schoppe July 24, 2006 at 11:37 pm

    What is troubling is the lack of attention to material. While he talks about going beyond adornment, the building itself is not fundamentally different from those without green roofs; it is still built of steel and concrete and roofed with rubber. Further, the geoweb that can be seen in the installation photos it designed to last 100 years and possibly much longer. What happened to the concept of design for deconstruction? What happens when the building is demolished in 50 years and the soil is filled with petroleum textiles? Sure, green roofs are a great idea, but don’t stop there; the whole building needs to be energy conscious and RECYCLABLE.

  6. Matt Fiori July 20, 2006 at 3:20 am

    I like what you had to say about the “closed-loop” grey water systems; now all we need is to be designing closed-loop energy systems for buildings, where the energy needs of a structure, or group of structures are met through the incorporation of renewable power units and energy efficient design. Decentralized power. Probably not a new concept, but is it going to be done during the upcoming redevelopment of California?

  7. Dick Smith July 18, 2006 at 3:57 pm

    Very impressive!!!! And all I thought he was good at was catching big fish! Shows what I know.

    Can hardly wait for Part II..


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