Exterior Design Features by Exploratorium Art Director Mark McGowan
Drawing from information on the tides, living organisms found in the bay, and the modern miracle of harvesting solar energy, Mark McGowan, Art Director for the Exhibit Environments at the Exploratorium, devised three exterior art pieces that enhance the overall impact of the museum’s new site. “My goal was to use the building’s otherwise neutral architectural features to visually display things that would normally be invisible,” he says. “I wanted these pieces to express something about the site and what’s there—the tides, the bay water, and the equipment that’s contributing to the museum’s net-zero energy goal—in a visual way.”
One piece, the TideGate, is based on data drawn from NOAA’s historic Tidal Database for Crissy Field Station (the official federal government site in San Francisco Bay), which has been actively recording tidal data since the late 1800s.
This 8-foot-tall structure takes one month’s worth of tide charts from 1969 (the year the Exploratorium first opened to the public) and overlays them into a composite image of 28 undulating curves. The tides in the Bay normally rise and fall as much as 8 feet—the same height as the gate, so visitors can compare themselves to the height of the local tides. Fabricated from 8 panels of waterjet-cut steel, the TideGate was crafted in Berkeley by Henry DeFauw.
On the Bay Observatory Terrace, facing the bay, visitors will find Plankton Wall, a segment of building wall adorned with a randomized grid of what appear to be patterned circles. These circles are abstract versions of sketches initially created by Karli Woodward, Living Systems Technician, of four different types of baywater plankton. The myriad holes that comprise the pattern were die-cut; the entire design is made up of combinations of only 6 differently sized circles. The wall’s steel panels were fabricated by A. Zahner, an engineering and fabrication company based in Kansas City, Missouri.
The Electric Sun Wall, along the south side of Pier 15, references a modified schematic of the museum’s complex photovoltaic energy system. The design elegantly expresses what’s going on behind the ten-foot wall of half-inch-thick steel plates, where photovoltaic energy gathered from the museum’s solar panels is converted into usable electricity.
The tides, the bay water, and energy from the sun—these are some of what inspires and powers the museum at its new site. When you pass through the TideGate or soak in the view with the Plankton Wall at your back, take a little time to enjoy the thought-provoking connections between where you are and what you see.