Exploratorium Plankton Wall at the North Pier

The Exploratorium is a ground-breaking science museum in San Francisco. Founded in 1969, the museum is known internationally for its pioneering exhibits with hands-on creative displays of natural phenomena. In 2013, the museum opened in its new location after a redesign by EHDD Architects. The design process opened up three times the amount of space for exhibits.

Zahner was brought into the design to develop one of the three artworks devised by Mark McGowan, Art Director for the Exhibit Environments at the Exploratorium:

“My goal was to use the building’s otherwise neutral architectural features to visually display things that would normally be invisible, 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.”

Zahner worked with the team to develop the Plankton Wall, a stainless steel artwall which is situated at the Northeast elevation facing the San Francisco Bay.  As part of the Bay Observatory Terrace, the Plankton Wall is a semi-reflective surface showing 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. 

Each of the holes which compose the patterned circles were die-cut in Kansas City, composed of only 6 differently sized punches. The wall’s stainless steel panels were fabricated by Zahner in Kansas City, Missouri.

Operable doors clad in the Zahner perforated metal open to the ocean bay.
Operable doors clad in the Zahner perforated metal open to the ocean bay.
Entrance to the Exploratorium in San Francisco.
Entrance to the Exploratorium in San Francisco.
Detail of the custom perforated iconography at the Exploratorium.
Detail of the custom perforated iconography at the Exploratorium.
Photo of the Plankton Wall at the Exploratorium.
Photo of the Plankton Wall at the Exploratorium.
Detail of the ocean-facing Plankton Wall at the Exploratorium in San Francisco.
Detail of the ocean-facing Plankton Wall at the Exploratorium in San Francisco.
View of the Plankton Wall from the Bay Observation Terrace at the Exploratorium.
View of the Plankton Wall from the Bay Observation Terrace at the Exploratorium.
Detail off the Plankton Wall view from the Bay Observation Terrace at the Exploratorium.
Detail off the Plankton Wall view from the Bay Observation Terrace at the Exploratorium.