California Academy of Sciences Living Rainforest, San Francisco, CA

An immersive living environment joining physical experience with content narrative

The Need

The California Academy of Sciences sought to create a new exhibition to tell the story of the essential elements of a rainforest and provide an experience with the species that reside in specific rainforests.

Our Approach

We set about creating an immersive physical experience that ties together the content narrative, employing a spatial experience that tells the story of a rainforest’s interconnected habitat. Through careful study, we identified the essential elements of a rainforest and developed a plan to organize the exhibits around a dome split in half.  One half of the dome contains a living rainforest to tell the vertical story of the habitat’s identity by allowing the visitors to ascend from the forest floor to the understory to the canopy with explanatory plaques to chart the journey. Each level offers the opportunity to enter the galleries that occupy the other half of the dome. The exhibits there explore the living specimens and environments of the specific Madagascar and Borneo rainforests. Finally, from the canopy guests enter an elevator that descends beneath the forest floor into an immersive aquarium containing a living recreation of the flooded Amazon rainforest.

Beyond enhancing the guests’ learning through discovery, the architectural design of the exhibits provides a more leisurely experience akin to a stroll. By using low-grade ramps and an elevator instead of stairs, the installation offers guests a comfortable way to experience the height inherent to a rainforest with the inclusion of ADA accessibility.

Physical Design, Experience Design, Architectural Integration, Narrative Content, Living Zoological and Botanical Exhibit Design, Permanent Installation