San Francisco


A slight air of unreality hangs over the The Terrace in San Francisco, as if it were an architectural rendering sprung to life. The thin, crisp lines, the expanses of transparency, the slimmest of slim columns are able to capture the ethereality of the initial sketch. On the grounds of the California Academy of Sciences designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop, the Terrace echoes the elegance of its larger neighbor.

The hugely popular science museum, which attracts 1.4 million attendees each year, had a noisy, overcrowded indoor cafeteria. The institution decided to supplement it with an outdoor venue 'congruent with the Academy's design,' says Ike Kwon, the museum's general manager. It commissioned Mark Cavagnero Associates, a San Francisco'based firm responsible for such notable buildings as SFJAZZ. In this case, the architect wanted to visually tie the diminutive detached pavilion to Piano's design, which has a pronounced glass overhang. 'I wanted it to be highly transparent yet delicately frame views of the Academy,' Cavagnero says. Piano, who reviewed the concept drawing, deemed it 'brilliant.'

The lineage of glass pavilions is long and illustrious, including Philip Johnson's Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, but Cavagnero has pulled off a new architectural feat of strength: 'It's a glass box with two sliding walls in earthquake country,' he says. The $2.7 million rectangular volume, approximately 30 feet wide by 50 feet long, anchors one corner of the museum grounds. Cavagnero's team determined its height by the tallest frameless glass door system'11 feet, 4 inches'it could obtain, a custom system that glides along a recessed track set in the ceiling. The two walls facing the public grounds can disappear completely, while the fixed back wall of frosted glass, bisected horizontally by a clear strip, gives hints of Golden Gate Park beyond. In addition to the glass walls, the interior is brightened by five skylights, which are framed by shadowboxes of blue plastic resin'a clever way to create the illusion of blue skies in foggy San Francisco.

As if ingratiating itself with the larger main building, The Terrace reaches out with its own glass overhang extending from the roof, where recessed structural beams help achieve a thin profile. The design team also figured out how to repurpose the museum's unused concrete former aviary for the caf''s back-of-house operations.

The Terrace seats nearly 90 people indoors, with the patio accommodating another 50, and its floor seamlessly joins the two spaces. Most guests feasting on fare such as roasted asparagus salad and prawn ceviche will be completely oblivious of the structural gymnastics involved: Cavagnero's office worked with Tipping Engineers to put most of the seismic bracing in the roof to minimize shear walls, and used T-shaped beams in lieu of more ponderous I-beams.

Cavagnero also noted Piano's custom design for the Academy's columns and created his own twist: pairs of slender tubes painted white. But anyone seated in The Terrace, particularly when the walls have been folded back, can appreciate the sweeping view. 'Renzo would joke that he didn't like a column to be thicker than his pinky,' says Cavagnero. 'So we'd ask him, 'Is this thin enough?' '


Owner: California Academy of Sciences

Mark Cavagnero Associates
1045 Sansome Street, Suite 200
San Francisco, CA 94111
Phone 415-398-6944
Fax 415-398-6943

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Design Principal: Mark Cavagnero, FAIA
Principal in Charge: Kang Kiang, AIA
Brandon Joo, Associate
Charlotte Hofstetter
Olga Kozachek-Luebker
Vera Shur

Civil Engineer:
KCA Engineers
318 Brannan Street #2
San Francisco, CA 94107
Main: 415.546.7111
Erik Scheller, Project Engineer

Structural Engineer:
Tipping Structural Engineers (formally Tipping Mar Engineers)
1906 Shattuck Ave
Berkeley, CA 94704
Main: 510.549.1906
Leo Panian, Principal
Ian Kelso, Project Engineer

MEP Engineer:  
WSP Group
405 Howard Street, Suite 500
San Francisco, CA 94105
Main: 415.398.3833

Mechanical Engineer:
James Gronek, Associate
Direct: 415.402.5824

Electrical Engineer:
Lelet Serrano, Associate
Direct: 415.402.2722

Plumbing Engineer:
Joji Thomas, Sr. Engineer
Direct: 415.402.2296

Food Service Consultant – Clevenger Associates
11803 101st Avenue East, Suite 203
Puyallup, WA 98373
Main: 253.841.7811
Tony Clevenger, President
Brian Levy, Sr. PM

LEED Consulting – Thornton Tomasetti
650 California Street, Suite 1400
San Francisco, CA 94108
Main: 415.365.6900
Lynn Simon, Senior Vice President
Robert Watson, Project Manager

General contractor:
Plant Construction
300 Newhall Street
San Francisco, CA 94124
Main: 415.285.0500
Conrado Vellve (Vice President/Construction Manager)

Tim Griffith

Renderer(s):  Mark Cavagnero Associates

CAD system, project management, or other software used: AutoCad, Sketchup


1,600 square feet

Construction cost:

$2.7 million

Completion date:

October 204



Structural system
Concrete shear walls with steel structural columns and beams.

Exterior cladding
Metal/glass curtain wall: C/S Erectors

Other cladding unique to this project: Bird safe glazing

Built-up roofing: Firestone Ultraply

Metal frame:Nissen Pass through window.

Glass: Optiwhite from Viracon with Acid Etch.



Interior finishes
Paints and stains: Duranar

Floor and wall tile:Stone Project Skifer – Exterior and interior floors

Blue light boxes: 3Form

Interior ambient lighting: Vode