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.
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.