Location: South Pond, Lincoln Park Zoo Chicago, IL 60611
Size: 14 acre (0.5 mile boardwalk)
Cost: $12 million
Official Opening Date: June 2010
The goal was to create a “slice of prairie in the big-city” by revitalizing Lincoln Park’s South Pond at the Lincoln Park Zoo. The design team led by Studio Gang Architects,—the first female-led firm to commission a skyscraper in Chicago (and although unrelated, I really like their website)–and the landscape architecture and sustainable design firm WRD Environmental, the transformation from a once-polluted and neglected urban pond to an educational, family-oriented space buzzing with people and wildlife is phenomenal.
The Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo, pond ecosystem, and landscape covers 14-acres of restored habitat and wetlands, natural shorelines, and native plantings. Stormwater mitigation was improved by deepening the pond to increase stormwater storage capacity and by creating a natural biofiltration strip by planting around the pond’s edge.
The half-mile long Nature Boardwalk serves as an outdoor, environmental classroom and has become an easily recognizable icon by its column-free, tortoise-shell education pavilion.
A new boardwalk circumscribing the pond passes through various educational zones that explicate the different animals, plants, and habitat found in each. A pavilion integrated into the boardwalk sequence provides shelter for open-air classes on the site. Inspired by the tortoise shell, its laminated structure consists of prefabricated, bent-wood members and a series of interconnected fiberglass pods that give global curvature to the surface.
A small structure with a big impact, the unique structure immediately draws people underneath its canopy. The boardwalk is also equally impressive with its naturalistic plantings and large, educational signage.