Last summer, Lincoln Park Zoo unveiled its plans for a new visitor center flanking its eastern gate along Cannon Drive. With the $9 million improvement now underway, we spoke with architect Carol Ross Barney of Ross Barney Architects regarding both its design and what the project means for the zoo and its visitors.
“The whole idea was to create a new gateway,” explained Barney whose portfolio includes the award-winning Chicago Riverwalk expansion. The designer grew up in an apartment not far from the zoo and has long held the free cultural attraction near and dear to her heart.
Though referred to as a singular “center,” the project consists of separate buildings connected by an aluminum canopy laser-cut with a nature-inspired organic pattern designed to be more welcoming and provide guests with shade during Chicago’s hot summer months.
As for the buildings themselves, one piece contains new restrooms—a public amenity absent from the 1994 welcome pavilion it replaces—while the other, larger structure houses members services, a members lounge, informational kiosk, stroller rentals, and back-of-house offices.
Ross Barney Architects is teaming up with local landscape architect Jacobs/Ryan Associates on the project. Centering around an existing mature oak, the new landscape program includes more native and less formal looking plantings and the installation of new boulder-like benches and permeable pavers for improved stormwater management.
The informational wing of the complex takes the theme of an open and inviting environment one step further thanks to its retractable wall. In warmer months, the center will essentially convert into an open-air space.
The development is part of a larger $125 million capital improvement campaign which includes projects such as a new polar bear and penguin house, macaque enclosure, arctic tundra habitat, and a makeover of the zoo’s landmarked 1912 Lion House. The new visitor center represents one of the first new “people buildings” in recent years.
With a construction permit secured earlier this month, work on the project is in full swing. Lincoln Park Zoo expects to complete its new eastern entrance and pavilion by the end of 2018.