San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences facility has been recognized by the urban land use industry as a worldwide model of excellence in design and development.

The new $488 million, 412,000-square-foot building in Golden Gate Park opened in September 2008 and includes an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum and four-story rainforest.

The sustainable design features solar panels, a water reclamation system and a 2.5-acre “living roof” with growing plants.

The academy was one of five developments to receive the Urban Land Institute’s 2009 Global Award for Excellence, selected by a jury of land use development and design experts and announced today at the institute’s fall meeting in San Francisco.

“The academy is a dramatic rebirth of a facility that had fallen into disrepair,” jury chairman Joseph E. Brown said in a statement. Brown is also a chief executive at AECOM, a provider of professional technical and management support services, in San Francisco.

Brown called the academy “an extraordinary green building achievement that has retained much of the old building’s qualities, while overlaying many new spatial and learning experiences.” He also praised the decision to keep the facility in Golden Gate Park, to the benefit of both open space and cultural activities, he said.

California Academy of Sciences Executive Director Greg Farrington said the academy “has always been dedicated to exploring and protecting the natural world, so it was crucial that our rebuilt facility be a model for sustainability.”

“In addition to creating a home for powerful exhibits and programs, and valuable research collections, the building itself serves as an exhibit that we hope will inspire visitors from around the world to conserve and protect natural resources,” Farrington said.

The Urban Land Institute is a 34,000-member, Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit education and research institute. Criteria for its Awards for Excellence, which recognize the entire development process and not simply architecture or design, include innovation and leadership, contribution to the community, public/private partnership, environmental protection and financial success.

Other awardees were the new campus of the American University in Cairo, Egypt; the Rise, a mixed-use retail and residential building in Vancouver, British Columbia; the West Chelsea/High Line Rezoning Plan in New York City; and the Zhongshan Shipyard Park in Zhongshan, China.

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