After 40 years as our neighbor at the Palace of Fine Arts, the Exploratorium is putting the finishing touches on its new waterfront digs at Pier 15 on the Embarcadero. Following a sold-out Opening Gala on April 12, the museum will open its new doors to the public on April 17, revealing a spectacular space more than three times the size of its previous location.
The move to the two-story glass waterfront location offers a host of new opportunities, not the least of which is increased space. Another is a more centralized location with easier access. Situated between the Ferry Building and Pier 39, the museum is sure to attract visitors strolling the Embarcadero as well as Bay Area residents and commuters.
The expanded space is home to six interactive galleries; each gallery name is descriptive of direction or their location in the museum, for example, the East, West and South Galleries, and the Outdoor, Central and Bay Observatory Galleries. “In one gallery we will have the Tinkering Studio,” explained Quynh Tran of the Public Information Office. “People come in and create art from unusual sources. One man made a sculpture from duct tape and called it ‘duct-orami,’ and my seven-year-old daughter made a bracelet from thread.” With more gallery space, more visitors will be able to experience the “interactiveness” the museum is known for.
Science teachers will benefit from the larger space as well. “At the Palace of Fine Arts we had to turn away two out of every three teachers who applied for study,” Tran said, “So now we’ll have the physical space to admit more teachers.”
Building on the success of its weekly After Dark programs launched at the Palace of Fine Arts, the Exploratorium has plans to expand its adult programming, offering an evening program geared toward young science professionals.
The unique pier location will allow the museum to utilize the bay where scientists can conduct plankton and other microscopic research. “We are thrilled to be in this fantastic location on San Francisco Bay,” said Dr. Rob Semper, Exploratorium executive associate director and head of programs. “We always made the invisible visible at the Exploratorium. But now we literally have expanded our subjects to include the immediate world around us.”
Another advantage of the new site is it will help the museum reduce its global footprint and realize its goal of the first net-zero energy-use museum. The building has been designed and constructed with this goal in mind: A 1.3-megawatt solar power system will enable it to offset its electricity demand; the innovative use of the bay water for the heating and cooling system will save two million gallons a year; a percentage of water collected from roof runoff will be reused for toilet flushing with the rest filtered and returned to the bay; and the galleries are designed to take advantage of natural light and reduce heat gain, thus reducing energy need. Of course it will take time to achieve the ambitious net-zero goal, and the museum invites the public to learn with them as the effort is displayed in an educational exhibition showing real-time energy use.
The dazzling waterfront venue and increased footprint will provide the museum with event space for weddings, corporate events, and the like. “One of the features of the space is that it has six different galleries, which allows you to scale your event up or down from an intimate seated dinner for 100 to a strolling reception for 4,000 and everything in between,” said Amy Adkins, who manages museum rentals. “The location on the bay adds to the beauty of the event.” Who wouldn’t want to attend an event in the Bay Observatory Gallery, with the stunning backdrop of the Bay Bridge dressed up with its new lights?
With that in mind, the museum also hopes to be a destination restaurant spot. Visitors can dine at either the SeaGlass Restaurant in that spectacular Bay Observatory space or the more casual Seismic Joint Café facing an outdoor plaza. Both are by acclaimed chef Loretta Keller (Coco500, the Moss Room, and the Academy Café at the Academy of Sciences) and Bon Appétit.
Linda Dackman, public information director, has some encouraging words for those missing our old neighbor: “I’m sure many dedicated visitors, like many staff, feel nostalgia for our home at the Palace of Fine Arts. But when they arrive at this dramatic location, see the outdoor exhibits, and the newly exposed water of the bay in the middle of it all, I think they will fall in love with the new Exploratorium for the first time, all over again.”
Basics: 698 Embarcadero (at Pier 15), 415-528-4360, www.exploratorium.edu
Hours: Tuesday & Friday–Sunday 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Wednesday 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Thursday 10 a.m.–5 p.m. & 6–10 p.m. (ages 18+)
Tickets: Free (age 5 and under; members); $19 (youth, students, teachers, seniors, and disabled); $25 (adults age 18–64). Discounted rates for Bay Area residents.
Events: Opening Gala After Party, Friday, April 12, 9 p.m.–1 a.m. Dancing; compelling cocktails; influential artists, musicians and performers; and a dessert buffet. Tickets $200. Opening Day, Wednesday, April 17, 9 a.m.–10 p.m. Free outdoor programming, hands-on activities, and official ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. After sundown, live performances, festivities, and more continue. After Dark: Home, Thursday, May 2, 6–10 p.m. Behind-the-scenes tours of the new building featuring live music, films, comfort food, and more.