California Academy of Sciences
Location is everything in both real estate and architecture. If it sat alone in Golden Gate Park, Renzo Piano's modernist masterpiece would be striking enough – with its living roofs and giant biosphere – but the sprawling California Academy of Sciences sits across a plaza from the de Young Museum, a crag of pockmarked, rusted metal. The de Young seems like an asymmetrical warning about the inevitability of decline whereas the Academy is proof of the possibility of positive change. The building's environmentally friendly features include 60,000 photovoltaic cells, strategically positioned windows that light 90 percent of the space, and wall insulation made from recycled jeans. And if the building itself isn't striking enough, there are always its inhabitants, including a reef worth of fish and a pink-eyed albino alligator.