The Bay Area’s premier interactive science museum, the Exploratorium, reopened this week with a new focus on the world right outside its doors: San Francisco Bay.
With its move from a windowless warehouse at the Palace of Fine Arts to the waterfront at Pier 15, the museum has added the Bay Observatory, a 6,000-square-foot space with wraparound views of the Bay and shoreline.
Museum staff saw public interest in having the Exploratorium’s take on the here-and-now of San Francisco Bay, but, says senior curator Susan Schwartzberg, the museum’s former home made that difficult.
“We were isolated in a black box. There were no windows, no use of the park outside,” she said during a tour of the new space.
For its new digs, the Exploratorium developed a range of Bay-focused exhibits with help from experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, UC Berkeley, the San Francisco Estuary Institute, and other institutions. Among the exhibits are a long-range scope for viewing the Bay, a real-time ship tracking viewer, and acrylic cutouts of six months’ daily tidal profiles — particularly intriguing are the cutouts showing wild gyrations due to the 2011 Japanese tsunami.
The observatory will also showcase historic and contemporary maps to chart the waterfront’s past and present. A wall mural will feature the transformations along the Embarcadero since 1850, while another display allows people to layer transparencies over the building’s windows to see how the landscape has changed as the city has grown.
The observatory may also someday serve as a learning center during dramatic events that happen in the Bay, such as a shipwreck or an earthquake.
“We can call our circle of scientists and do an event, talk with the public, and answer questions,” said content developer Sebastian Martin.
But just standing in the Bay Observatory and watching the undulating waves or a pelican drift by may remain the best attraction of them all.
Alison Hawkes is the online editor of Bay Nature.