By Design: Chicago’s Nature Boardwalk

When it comes to sight-seeing, architecture has a place in every destination. Here’s what’s worth contemplating on your next visit to the Windy City.

Dec 12, 2011
Bentwood Pavilion, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago
The Nature Boardwalk in the heart of Chicago is impressive not only because of its serenity and simplicity; it's also a model for urban conservation and nature-oriented architecture.
Photography John Picken

The place: The Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago

The backstory: During an 18-month restoration effort, a beleaguered pond in an urban park was drained, dredged, deepened and re-established as a thriving freshwater ecosystem. It’s nature in the heart of the city, less than 2 miles north of both Four Seasons Hotel Chicago  and Ritz-Carlton Chicago, a Four Seasons Hotel. The boardwalk encircling the pond was designed to serve as an outdoor classroom for the study of wildlife and sustainability. But it also makes a serene—and romantic—pleasure destination, with a smashing skyline view. (The boardwalk is always open, and you needn’t enter the zoo proper to enjoy it.)

The beauty: In a city renowned for impressive architecture, this new structure impresses with its quiet simplicity. Built largely of recycled plastic “lumber,” it is a model for urban conservation and nature-oriented architecture. The most striking visual element of the design is a soaring, lacy, bentwood canopy studded with translucent fibreglass “scales” that was inspired by the segmented structure of a tortoiseshell.

Fun fact: The boardwalk’s architect, Jeanne Gang, whose work can be seen at many Chicago locations, was honored with a 2011 MacArthur Foundation “genius” award.

Next: Dublin’s Bord Gáis Energy Theatre and Grand Canal Square


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