Set amidst the chaotic city of Chicago, Nature’s Boardwalk at the Lincoln Park zoo is an ideal paradigm of coherence between nature and urban environment. The man-made Romantic Victorian pond from 1907 nearing death went through a complete resurrection and morphed into an ecological park thriving with biodiversity!

Nature Boardwalk serves as Urban Wildlife Institute’s living laboratory. Here, scientists are evaluating field study approaches and developing strategies to address disputes between humans and wildlife before implementing them wider. In an attempt to understand how species profit from this urban oasis, scientists have tracked wildlife, ranging from dragonflies to coyotes, since Nature Boardwalk completed. Guests can learn first-hand about UWI’s research activities and the complex urban environment found in the heart of Chicago through observation and interpretive signage.

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View of the Nature Boardwalk ©Harris

The scenic yet non-sustainable manmade pond from the 19th century now connects the city dwellers of the contemporary city with nature without them having to travel distances.

HISTORY

Today’s Lincoln Park Ecosystem has undergone a number of transformations in the history of Chicago city! In the 1830’s the land was used to bury the dead in Chicago as it was a wasteland which uninterrupted the city’s working! In1835, it was officially regarded as the city Cemetery and was used to bury the dead of Chicago! With rising sanitary issues due to extensive burial, this Land was banned for burial but during the Civil war, no less than 1600 bodies were added to this ground, exhausting its capacity and alarmingly increasing the area’s rancidity. 

The idea of turning these grounds into a Park named after Abraham Lincoln had long been decided but never sanctioned and put to play due to constant political issues and lack of funds! Finally, after the outbreak of the ‘Great Chicago Fire’ and the land turning into a macabre refuge, absolutely no recourse seemed possible and hence the land acquired by the elite as the land for their deceased was requested for renovation. After the fire, the city experienced rapid growth and Lincoln Park was redesigned with an aim of creating picturesque landscapes resembling some kind of artistic paintings. 

During the redesigning process of Chicago’s Parks, the natural fauna was eradicated by none other than Frederick Law Olmsted as “forlorn of character”. The park was designed as a fabricated ecosystem with an artificial lake, constructed hills, and non-native flowers. The habitats of the native animal species were destroyed and replaced by a zoo. The pair of faux swan boats with chairs imported from New York became the new symbol of the newly designed ecosystem of Lincoln Park. Historian Daniel Bluestone, in his book ‘Constructing Chicago’(Bluestone, 1993) rightly stated, “The designs for Chicago’s major parks . . . all aimed at creating natural beauty from a fairly paltry environment of natural scenery.” 

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Archaic Photo of Cafe Brauer at the South Pond. ©studiogang.com

The pond being shallow soon stagnated and its oxygen capacity was exhausted which in turn terminated the only existing carp and koi goldfish populations in the water leaving their dead bodies floating on the surface of the pond. The Pond was finally shut down in 2008 and was taken up for renovation for its lost environmental value. A sum of $12million was sanctioned for the same and the Park was turned into an ecological gem by Studio Gang(Gang, n.d.) by 2010, officially opening it on the 24th of July 2010.

DESIGN BY STUDIO GANG

Ar. Jeanne Gang’s design concentrated on improving the overall hydrology, water quality, biodiversity, landscaping & creating co-existence and balance between natural and urban environments. Studio Gang’s(Gang, n.d.).The goal of the project was to create a “slice of prairie in the big-city” by revitalizing Lincoln Park’s South Pond at the Lincoln Park Zoo(Wang, (2013)). Refurbishing the pond and the Park area also solved the vital question of stormwater drainage ameliorating the stormwater infrastructure. The complete redesign of the Lincoln Park ecosystem with the conservation of the environment being the prime motive emphasized Studio Gang’s design philosophy of designing futuristic urban spaces fusing nature into urban spaces & portraying co-existence.

Today the Lincoln Park Zoo, pond ecosystem, and landscape nature boardwalk encompasses 14-acre preserved ecosystems and wetlands, natural shorelines, and native plantings. Mitigation of stormwater and pond aeration has been enhanced by widening the pond to maximize stormwater storage capacity and by creating a natural biofiltration strip planted along the edge of the ponds. The renovation of the pond effectively attracted a large number of wildlife and diversity which had left the region years before. The black-crowned heron, an endangered bird species (Maxpixel.net) in Illinois being the first one to migrate back to Lincoln Park.

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The black-crowned heron ©Maxpixel.net
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The Pavilion at Night ©studiogang.com

The half-mile-long Nature Boardwalk acts as an outdoor, natural classroom and its column-free, turtle-shelled education pavilion has become an instantly identifiable symbol and is locally famous as the Honey-comb of Chicago.

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The Pavilion locally famous as Honeycomb in Chicago ©studiogang.com

A small structure with a big effect, the unique structure attracts people immediately underneath its canopy. The boardwalk with its naturalistic plantings and wide, informative signage is equally impressive.

CONCEPT:

Led by the design team of Studio Gang Architects,—the first female-led firm to commission a skyscraper in Chicago–and the landscape architecture and sustainable design firm WRD Environmental, the project transformed a once-polluted and neglected urban pond to an educational, family-oriented space buzzing with people and wildlife(Wang, 2013). Restoring the lost environmental value of the area along with replenishing the stormwater infrastructure was the main issue to be resolved. It also included conservation of the native flora and fauna of the region hence converting the Lincoln Zoo Park into a multi-purpose center for activities that didn’t just attract the residents but also local research students as the Boardwalk of the park served as On-site laboratories. 

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Conceptual planning of the Lincoln Park ©architizer.com

MATERIALS USED:

The primary material of the pavilion, Douglas Fir, was selected from an area whose environmental policies protect natural ecosystems and biodiversity, for its structural integrity and harvesting. The natural resilience of Douglas Fir to molding and decay contributes to the durability of the project by reducing the traditional chemical processes usually used to improve the longevity of a structure.

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Assembly of The Pavilion ©studiogang.com

THE HONEYCOMB PAVILION: 

A pavilion built into the boardwalk series provides on-site shelter for open-air classrooms. The shell structure consists of prefabricated laminate, bent-wood members and a series of interconnected fiberglass pods that give the surface a vault-like curvature.

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The pre-fabricated Glu-lam ribs. ©studiogang.com
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The tortoise Shell shaped fiberglass members are light enough to be assembled on site. ©studiogang.com

THE BOARDWALK: 

A revamped boardwalk that borders the pond, passes through various educational zones describing the different local as well as migratory species of plants and ecosystems found in each. 

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The boardwalk is made from recycled plastic milk bottle planks. ©studiogang.com

The 31-mile boardwalk composed of planks made of recycled plastic milk bottles also offers insight into current Chicago architecture. This preservation of both old and new demonstrates the value of maintaining Green & Responsive Architecture.

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The Boardwalk Circumscribing the pond. ©studiogang.com

Nature Boardwalk, once a simple man-made pond, is now a lush, natural, prairie-style garden lined with indigenous plants and full of birds, frogs, fish, tortoises, insects and other wildlife. A model for urban conservation and sustainability, the Nature Boardwalk serves as a natural ecosystem for native Chicago wildlife. With the design’s improvements to water quality, hydrology, landscape, accessibility, and shelter, the site serves as an outdoor classroom that illustrates the coexistence between nature and city.

REFERENCES

  • Bluestone, D. (1993). Constructing Chicago. Yale University Press.
  • Gang, A. (n.d.). Studio Gang . Retrieved from studiogang.com: https://studiogang.com/
  • Harris, T. (n.d.). Architizer. https://architizer-prod.imgix.net/media/1489620787947Nature_Boardwalk_at_Lincoln_Park_Zoo_4_cTom_Harris_Photography.jpg. Chicago: Architizer.
  • https://images.adsttc.com/media/images/55e8/8fb4/e258/46a2/f200/001e/large_jpg/boardwalk-complete.jpg?1441304474. (n.d.). Images.adsttc.com. Retrieved from https://images.adsttc.com/media/images/55e8/8fb4/e258/46a2/f200/001e/large_jpg/boardwalk-complete.jpg?1441304474
  • Maxpixel.net. (n.d.). Retrieved from Maxpixel: https://www.maxpixel.net/Nature-Heron-Bird-Wildlife-Black-Crowned-Night-2060756
  • Wang, L. ((2013)). Studio Gang’s Nature Boardwalk & Landscape . Chicago, Illinois.
Author

A creative & positive A nahita finds creativity in nature, which makes her an avid wanderer, a yoga enthusiast& an environmentalist.An ardent reader and passionate writer, she expresses through poetry, doodling and baking. Fascinated by the influence of architecture on human mind makes her explore and research about spaces and landscaping.

1 Comment

  1. A really well written and descriptive article that delves into the factors that make up the aprk and explains the effects of details on the ecology and community. It was fun and enriching to read.

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