I confess I was a little disturbed when I first learned that the Exploratorium in San Francisco was moving. Its historic home at the Palace of Fine Arts is so singular, so perfect, that it just seemed heretical to consider moving. On the inside, "Palace" is bit of a misnomer; the interior is raw, industrial, and vast. The setting is beautiful, of course, and the buildings are a romantic dream - who can forget those mysterious grecian ladies, forever peering into the depths atop their columns (the ladies are even visible on Google Maps!). Then there is the lovely lagoon, complete with swans (I'm not sure if the swans are still there, but I remember them from childhood visits). There is something very Californian about the happy contrast between the industrial, the natural, and the classically beautiful - between science and romance. The place was designed by Berkeley architect Bernard Maybeck for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, and was never intended to last... But it did, for a good long time (it was renovated in 1965).
(photo from the San Francisco Parks and Recreation website)
The Exploratorium in 1977
Exploratorium Founder Dr. Frank Oppenheimer
One thing that was truly fantastic about the Exploratorium (and I hope it carries over into the new space) was its transparency. New exhibits were always being created on-site, in nearly full-view of visitors. It was fascinating to be able to peer into the workshops of the incredibly creative and clever elves who made the Exploratorium the magical place it was.
The new museum is at Pier 15, and promises to be spectacular, so I won't sulk for too long. The museum is keeping hundreds of its old exhibits and adding 150 more. The space will be divided into six areas of focus: Human Phenomena, Tinkering, Seeing and Listening, Living Systems, Landscape Observation, and an Outdoor Gallery. Have a look at their website - it looks like a fantastic place.
The Monochromatic Room
Studying Plankton Populations
The new site will also be far more accessible, particularly by mass transit - and that is something to celebrate. It's fairly close to the Embarcadero Bart station, and is on the streetcar route (these vintage beauties are also fun for kids). It's also only steps from another of my favorite places, the Ferry Building Marketplace (which I wrote about here).
Luckily, the old building isn't going anywhere, although it's not yet clear who or what will take over the space.
All photos from the Exploratorium website, except where noted.