Lincoln Park Zoo Visitors Center

Location: Chicago, Illinois
Program: Visitor and Welcome Center
Status: Under Construction
Size: 9,500 sqft

The Lincoln Park Zoo, one of North America’s oldest, has evolved since its 1868 founding into an institution that connects people with nature in the heart of Chicago. Through its focus on quality and conservation, the Zoo embarked on a capital campaign to re-work its visitor experiences; this includes a dynamic east pavilion.

The new pavilion, which comprises of an entry gate, visitors center, administrative offices, membership lounge, and public washrooms tucks behind a natural landscape. Two buildings formed in the shape of a “J” are visually tied together by an innovative structural canopy. Cantilevered frames support and hang from one another, similar to a delicately stacked card tower. These opposing forces: tension and compression, balance out in an effect that appears to effortlessly levitate. As visitors gave up, a pattern of layered branches filters light as if peering through the branches of a tree.

A courtyard, scattered with boulders and a blooming tree, is wrapped by offices. The information center, with its retracting walls, opens to the Zoo grounds in the summer months, enriching the visitor experience. As the Zoo closes, a monumental gate with the same layered branch pattern closes. Pivotal to the design and security of the building and more broadly the entire campus, the pattern had to be calibrated to discourage climbing. Through many interactions and mock-ups, a design evolved to include sharp angles and tight voids that deter adventurous guests after hours.

Above all, the Visitor’s Center represents the aspirations of a Chicago Institution that has become one of the last free Zoo’s in the country with a memorable building that is a gateway to the park, city, and world beyond.