This article from the New York Times by Nicolai Ourousoff about the new California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, designed by Renzo Piano and across the park from Herzog & de Meuron’s deYoung, was just too beautiful not to share, particularly the opening and closing paragraphs. Ahh, I remember those African Hall dioramas well:
Not all architects embrace the idea of evolution. Some, fixated on the 20th-century notion of the avant-garde, view their work as a divine revelation, as if history began with them. Others pine for the Middle Ages.
But if you want reaffirmation that human history is an upward spiral rather than a descent into darkness, head to the new California Academy of Sciences, in Golden Gate Park, which opens on Saturday.
The museum has also preserved its African Hall, with its gorgeous vaulted ceiling and dioramas of somnolent lions and grazing antelopes, integrating it into the new design. Built in the 1930s, this neo-Classical hall is a specimen of sorts. Its massive stone structure reflects colonial attitudes about the civilized world as a barrier against barbarism. It was intended as a symbol of Western superiority and a triumph over nature.
By contrast, Mr. Piano’s vision avoids arrogance. The ethereality of the academy’s structure suggests a form of reparations for the great harm humans have done to the natural world. It is best to tread lightly in moving forward, he seems to say. This is not a way of avoiding hard truths; he means to shake us out of our indolence.
Images, of course, from the New York Times.