Lion House: Rewriting the History of Chicago’s Historic Wildlife Center in 1912



Lion House: Rewriting the History of Chicago’s Historic Wildlife Center in 1912

The historic lion house has long been a central feature of Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. When global architectural firm Goettsch Partners (GP) set out to renovate and expand the structure, the goal was to preserve the original building while increasing usable area and creating a new spatial experience. The facility is home to a pride of four African lions, as well as Canadian lynxes, red pandas and snow leopards.

© Tom Harris© Tom Harris© Tom Harris© Tom Harris+ 15

© Tom Harris
© Tom Harris

Goettsch Partners (GP) is a Chicago-based company, with additional offices in Shanghai and Abu Dhabi. With completed projects spanning five continents and representing a wide range of types and sizes, the office approaches each design through constructability, environmental impact and human experience. For Lion House, the company wanted guests to have immersive “nose to nose” viewing opportunities both inside and outside the building. Called the Pepper Family Wildlife Center, the $ 41 million renovation, restoration and expansion nearly doubled the size of the former lion habitat.

© Tom Harris
© Tom Harris

The 54,000 square foot facility provides increased transparency and a more immersive experience for visitors while restoring the architectural integrity of the original historic building. Designed in collaboration with Seattle zoo exhibitor PJA, the habitat aims to provide animals with choice and improve their well-being. As the team explains, it covers everything from thermal comfort zones for heating and cooling to intricate rock gardens and trees for climbing.

© Tom Harris
© Tom Harris
© Tom Harris
© Tom Harris

“Renovation and restoration work is revitalizing one of Chicago’s historic architectural gems,” says Patrick Loughran, FAIA, PE, LEED AP, CTO at GP. “New features and functionality allow the facility to better meet the needs of the zoo and visitors in the future. The Pepper Family Wildlife Center marks GP’s second major project at Lincoln Park Zoo, the company also having designed the Regenstein Center for African Apes, completed in 2004. With limited work done since the last major renovation in 1990, the building had to to be improved. . The zoo wanted to significantly improve the lion’s habitat, with a focus on animals, as well as the visitor experience.

© Tom Harris
© Tom Harris

Creating new traffic lanes, the design makes it easy to view from the Lion Loop, a hollow elliptical path leading visitors from the TAWANI Grand Hall to the center of the habitat. The loop offers visitors the chance to see lions from everywhere, including the skylights above. The project also includes a demonstration training wall where visitors can see the lions working with zoo staff. The overall educational goal of the building is the zoo’s ongoing conservation efforts in Africa.

As the team explained, the new lion habitat spans the entire north side of the building, with a design informed by data the zoo has collected over the past few years on lion behavior and use. space to understand their preferences. Large 1 ½ “thick glass panels provide unobstructed views of the lion’s outdoor space. Savannah-style habitat includes detailed boulders to introduce climbing features and expand environmental options for all lions. by providing integrated heating and cooling elements for climate control.

Inside, tree structures and dead trees are made from trees certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and the food ziplines, simulating prey, provide an enrichment opportunity for the lions. “A major goal shared by zoo management and the design team was to dramatically improve lion habitat, with an emphasis on animal welfare,” said Joachim Schuessler, design director at GP. “At the same time, our design greatly enriches the visitor experience by removing visual barriers and creating a closer bond between humans and lions in space.”

© Tom Harris
© Tom Harris
© Tom Harris
© Tom Harris

To prepare for the renovations, the pride of the zoo’s lions – including 9-year-old male Sahar and 5-year-old litter Kamali and Zalika – set out for the Rolling Hills Zoo in Salina, Kansas. Their transfer was in line with the African Lion Species Survival Plan, a coordinated population management program overseen by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The planned renovations have been designed with the specific needs of lions in mind. In recent years, zoo animal welfare scientists have been monitoring lion pride behavior, habitat use, and preferences.

© Tom Harris
© Tom Harris

Located in the heart of Lincoln Park Zoo, the country’s only free-entry private zoo, the historic Lion House was originally designed by architect Dwight Perkins and completed in 1912. With its decorative bricks and earthen ornaments fired, its lion mosaics and grand hall with a vaulted Guastavino tile ceiling, it was designated a Chicago Landmark in 2005. The design team worked closely with the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to preserve, restore and enhance significant architectural features of the original Arts and Crafts structure, including masonry, clay tiled roof and copper gutter, as well as windows and doors. The vaulted ceiling is light but structurally load-bearing in the same way as the vaults of old world cathedrals as the lion’s house’s most unique feature.

© Tom Harris
© Tom Harris

Primary restoration of the building focused on the east and west entrances to the building, including repairs to brick, stone and terracotta masonry, complete repointing with mortar, and restoration of the arched cast iron windows and entrance. . The original Arts and Crafts color scheme, a distinctive and significant part of the building’s authenticity, has also been restored using microscopy of paint. “The Lion House is a remarkable and lasting reminder that the Lincoln Park Zoo has been in business for over 150 years,” said Andrew Fox, partner at Goettsch Partners. “It provides a timeline of how animal habitat design has progressed since its original construction. Pepper Family Wildlife Center is a shining example of the zoo’s dedication to promoting animal care and welfare with its cutting-edge elements and data-driven design, while celebrating the past.

This feature is part of an ArchDaily series called AD Stories where we share the story behind a selected project, delving into its peculiarities. Each month we explore new builds from around the world, highlighting their history and how they came to be. We also engage with the architect, builders and the community seeking to highlight their personal experience. As always, at ArchDaily, we greatly appreciate the contribution of our readers. If you think we should present a certain project, please submit your suggestions.



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