Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo

Chicago, IL

Built 2010

Lincoln Park Zoo


14 acres


The Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo transforms a picturesque yet unsustainable urban pond from the 19th century 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 coexistence of nature and city.

When it was built in 1908, Lincoln Park Zoo’s South Pond reflected the Victorians’ romantic and recreational concept of nature in the city. Today the pond offers benefits that extend beyond visual spectacle. As the Nature Boardwalk, it has become a crucial, connective habitat for resident and migratory animal populations, a popular outdoor destination and learning landscape for city residents and visitors alike, and a functional, self-sustaining solution to Chicago’s aging stormwater infrastructure.

The boardwalk circumscribes the pond, passing through various educational zones that share information about different animals, plants, and habitats. A pavilion integrated into the boardwalk sequence provides shelter for open-air classes, programs, and events on site. Altogether, the design improves water quality and plant variety for a better, more diverse animal habitat, reduces reliance on aging city infrastructure, and creates an experiential outdoor educational environment.

Archival photo of the South Pond’s Cafe Brauer

The pavilion is made of prefabricated glu-lam wood “ribs” and fiberglass domes. Each piece was designed to be light enough for workers to lift and install by hand.

Video by Spirit of Space

Consultant Team

Atomic Props, fabricator

Christopher B. Burke Engineering, hydrology consultant

Cosgrove Construction, Inc., pavilion contractor

Fox River Components, subcontractor

Magnusson Klemencic Associates, structural engineer

Pepper Construction, general contractor

RLD Company, fabricator

Shaw Environmental & Infrastructure, Inc., program manager, coordinating engineer, and master planner

Shaw Sustainable Design Solutions of Illinois, project architect

Shelton Lam and Deck, fabricator

Sunrise Fiberglass, fabricator

WRD Environmental, landscape architect


Best Small Structure Award (Magnusson Klemencic), Structural Engineers Association of Illinois, 2011

Honor Award, Distinguished Building, Design Excellence Awards, AIA Chicago, 2011

American Architecture Award, Chicago Athenaeum, 2011

WoodWorks Wood Design Awards, 2010

Patron of the Year (Lincoln Park Zoo), Chicago Architecture Foundation, 2010