The Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo transforms a 19th century picturesque urban pond unable to support animals into an ecological habitat buzzing with life. With the design’s improvements to water quality, hydrology, landscape, accessibility, and shelter, the site is able to function as an outdoor classroom that demonstrates the exciting intersection of wild and urbane. Restoration included deepening the pond to provide better oxygenation to support aquatic life, and reestablishing the watershed around the pond. Added plant shelves filter run-off water to recover water quality and create habitat zones for animals. Two structures enhance visitors’ experience of the pond habitat. The boardwalk invites people to meander along a path, exploring both the water side and land side of the riparian edge. Visitors pass through various educational zones that explicate the different animals, plants, and habitat found in each. This boardwalk leads to the education pavilion whose structure and appearance references a tortoise shell. The inherent pliability of wood is rarely highlighted in architecture today. Constructed of prefabricated wood elements and a series of interconnected fiberglass pods, the pavilion forms a sheltering arch for open-air classes and other activities. Each member of its lattice-like structure is curved in two directions. The bending action used to make the wooden elements, similar to that of bent wood furniture or boats, provides additional strength and allows the pieces to be smaller and lighter. In the case of the pavilion, the pieces were light enough to eliminate the need for large construction machinery; instead, only two persons were needed to assemble the structure using steel connection plates and simple tools. Douglas Fir was chosen due to its great abundance in the Pacific Northwest, the home of the project’s wood fabricator. This region of the country enforces strict environmental management and protection policies to protect natural habitats and biodiversity. Douglas Fir’s natural resistance to mold and decay adds to the project’s sustainability by reducing the standard chemical treatments normally applied to increase a structure’s longevity.
Project Status: Built
- Architect: Studio Gang Architects
- Founder and Principal: Jeanne Gang, FAIA, LEED AP
- Photography: Steve Hall