Designs Within Reach 2019

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Rendering by Dreyfuss & Blackford Architecture

Powerhouse Science Center

Estimated Completion: 2021

After spending more than a decade tied up in fundraising delays and the blueprint modifications that ensued, the new Powerhouse Science Center finally broke ground at the Robert T. Matsui Waterfront Park along the Sacramento River last May. The design’s signature move—the adaptive reuse of a former PG&E substation, a 1912 Beaux-Arts building created by renowned San Francisco architect Willis Polk as part of the nationwide City Beautiful Movement—is not without its allegorical advantages.

“The original station was a beacon of technology since electric power was cutting edge at the time,” says lead architect Jason Silva of Dreyfuss & Blackford Architecture. “Likewise, the new science center will represent 21st-century technology and continuing innovation.” The building rehab will be the future home of awe-inspiring, hands-on STEM exhibits. In Destination Space, for example, future astronauts can immerse themselves in simulated galactical environments. Other displays will include interactive lessons in climate change, health and the finite nature of water resources.

Outside, a modern steel-and-glass entry pavilion will connect the historic substation to a new building that will be recognizable from I-5 by its striking zinc dome, where a brand-new 110-seat digital planetarium with a panoramic, 46-foot-diameter screen will reside.

Over time, the zinc will develop a subtly splotchy patina that might resemble a telescopic view of the moon’s surface. It’s a fitting celestial expression to crown the sphere (to be lit at night), which itself is a fitting symbol that for the next generation of budding scientists, reaching for the moon is about to get a whole lot easier.