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Lincoln Park Zoo shows off its new Ross Barney-designed visitor center

Topped by a laser-cut canopy, the project forms a striking gateway to one of Chicago’s most popular free attractions

The new gateway and its aluminum canopy take inspiration from the natural world.
Photo by Christopher Bijalba, courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo

A light dusting of snow didn’t stop Lincoln Park Zoo from officially cutting the ribbon Thursday on a new welcome pavilion designed by Chicago’s Ross Barney Architects. Known officially as the Searle Visitor Center, the $9.3 million project creates a bold gateway to zoo while improving guest amenities.

Essentially two buildings bridged by a laser-cut shade canopy inspired by organic forms found in nature, the facility houses new restrooms, stroller rentals, members services, a members lounge, informational kiosk, and other back-of-house offices. It replaces an older, silo-like guest services pavilion built in the mid 1990s.

The new structure is flanked by landscape improvements such as native plantings, boulder-inspired benches, and permeable pavers. A bronze statue memorializing the zoo’s famous—or rather infamous—Adelor the lion also makes its return following a temporary absence during construction.

The Searle Visitor Center is part of a larger $125 million capital improvement campaign which includes projects such as a new polar bear and penguin house, arctic tundra habitat, macaque forrest, and a makeover of the landmarked 1912 Lion House. It represents Lincoln Park Zoo’s first major “people building” in recent years.

The statue of Adelor the lion (who notoriously attacked keepers in 2004) returns to the zoo’s eastern entrance.
Photo by Christopher Bijalba, courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo