Gadzooks: Ross Barney Architects has unleashed a new pavilion with a visitor center at Chicago‘s Lincoln Park Zoo. In plan, the structure resembles two ‘Js’ knit together by a steel canopy of cantilevered frames that hang together to provide structural support and shade the ground with a leafy pattern. Officially, the 9,500-square-foot building is known as the Searle Visitor Center and it opened to the public on November 15, 2018.
Between the Js, zoo-goers may enjoy a bouldered courtyard designed by hometown landscape architects Jacobs/Ryan Associates. Offices encircle the space; elsewhere, the program includes a membership lounge and an information center. The info center’s patterned walls retract to open the zoo up to the crowds in the visitor center. At the entrance, the gate’s patterning was designed specifically to keep out rogue humans who might try to enter the zoo when
the animals throw parties at night it’s closed.
Besides the architecture, the best part about the Searle Visitor Center (and the rest of the zoo) is that it’s free to visit.
Zoos and cool buildings aren’t necessarily a natural association, but they should be. In Detroit, Albert Kahn Associates in 2016 completed a penguin house that’s shaped like a glacier, while at the Bronx Zoo, Morris Ketchum, Jr. & Associates’ modernist World of Darkness (built 1969, but now shuttered) offered a windowless circular cast concrete enclosure to observe nocturnal creatures. In London, the ramped up Penguin Pool is a modern icon but a less than ideal environment for its inhabitants, and may be torn down sooner rather than later.