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About This Project
The California Academy of Sciences (CAS) is one of the largest museums of natural history in the world. Located in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, it was originally founded in 1853 as a learned society, where volumes of original research continue today. Diverse education and dynamic exhibits have also become part of the museum’s growing legacy.
During the museum’s rebuild in 2007-2008, Fu-Tung Cheng was approached by Pentagram, the world’s largest independent design firms, to consult on the exterior signage for CAS’s new logo and the possibility of creating it in concrete. Knowing Fu-Tung’s passion for artistry and new materials, Pentagram then brought the Cheng team’s focus inside to create a secondary donor wall display that was worthy of the donors and that echoed the museum’s reputation.
What was the concept for the donor wall and how did you arrive at it?
I wanted to create a “landscape” with multiple dimensions that was subtle on the one hand so that you’d be able to read the donor names, but then captured the spirit of CAS as an institution of, and tribute to, science, art and nature—and that’s why the Golden Mean and the Fibonacci series is central to the concept because rare are the phenomena found across science, art and nature.
To tell that story of ideal proportions, I inlaid a rare, giant ammonite within a square that rises up, like a mesa, from the concrete landscape to meet the surface of the glass. From there, the visual stories spiral out from the energy of the ammonite and the golden ratio.
In one corner we recreated the undulating topography of the Academy’s living roof, which represents the seven hills of San Francisco. That was interesting getting the images from Google and then using it to translate it into the fabric form for the concrete. The entire wall represents the Academy and aspects of the geological, planetary—earth- and moon-like—even astrological and just a touch of levity thrown in for fun.
What other materials or objects are part of the “landscape?”
There are pyrites in the bottom left corner that look like an overhead view of architectural forms—they’re mineral crystals embedded in the earth representing the Academy’s work in earth sciences, geology and biology. There’s embedded stones and fossils, but more interestingly there’s a vortex-like recessed area that reminds me of a moonscape. In the base, there’s a car valve body cover and a mosaic of chrysoprase I had to cobble together to create a streak of bold color against the amber concrete. Some areas are polished down to expose aggregates and decorative stone and others less so, all to enhance the color and texture.
The levity part I was referring to is a peace symbol placed by my then 8-year-old daughter. Her part in it and the peace sign is a reminder of what is needed now and for the future of her generations and beyond.Read Fu-Tung’s Full Interview