Studio Gang’s Nature Boardwalk & Landscape | Chicago, IL

Studio Gang’s Nature Boardwalk & Landscape | Chicago, IL

With the recent article, ‘Architect Jeanne Gang threads nature into urban landscapes’, making the rounds in landscape architecture news feeds, I thought that now might be a good time to highlight one of Studio Gang’s projects, The Nature Boardwalk & Landscape at Lincoln Park Zoo.


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. 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.

Previously the site of a decrepit cemetery, South Pond was created alongside the opening of the Lincoln Park Zoo in the 1860s. Until the redesign of the pond and the surrounding landscape however, the pond’s ecosystem had become severely oxygen-starved and unhealthy due to lax management and poor construction.

Design Analysis. Image credit: Studio Gang 

Today, the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo, pond ecosystem, and landscape covers 14-acres of restored habitat and wetlands, natural shorelines, and native plantings. Stormwater mitigation and pond aeration was improved by deepening the pond to increase stormwater storage capacity and through the creation of a natural biofiltration strip planted around the pond edge. The pond’s transformation successfully attracted a large number and diversity of wildlife that had deserted the area years before.

The half-mile long Nature Boardwalk serves as an outdoor, environmental classroom and has become an easily recognizable icon by its column-free, tortoise-shell education pavilion.

From Studio Gang’s description:

A new boardwalk circumscribing the pond passes through various educational zones that explicate the different animals, plants, and habitat found in each. A pavilion integrated into the boardwalk sequence provides shelter for open-air classes on the site. Inspired by the tortoise shell, its laminated structure consists of prefabricated, bent-wood members and a series of interconnected fiberglass pods that give global curvature to the surface.

A small structure with a big impact, the unique structure immediately draws people underneath its canopy. The boardwalk is also equally impressive with its naturalistic plantings and large, educational signage.

Though the open-air pavilion receives the most media coverage, it’s the landscape that keeps people (and animals) coming back. As you can see from the pictures, I visited in late October, and the landscape was still so inviting, even in fall–from the layered colors and textures in the grasses to the shrill bird calls and frog noises, this project has succeeded in not only celebrating the prairie-style landscape and revitalizing the area, but also in becoming an attractive space for education and recreation.

All photos, unless otherwise credited, were taken by author Lucy Wang. Please ask before using.

About the Journey:

Hi! My name is Lucy Wang and I’m a landscape architecture grad from the University of Maryland. I travelled the U.S. (and parts of Canada) by mass transportation for several months in search of great, publicly-accessible landscape architecture sites, as well as landscape architecture firms and universities. I also was able to make a trip out to Shanghai in China for six weeks. I’ll be sharing some of my favorite finds on Land8 along the way. For more information, check out my profile.  As always, feel free to leave a comment below!

Where I’ve been:

Classical Chinese Gardens, Suzhou

Houtan Park, Shanghai

Quarry Garden, Shanghai

Discovery Green, Houston

San Antonio Japanese Tea Garden, San Antonio

Henry C. Beck Park, Dallas

Waterfall Garden Park, Seattle

Tanner Springs Park, Portland

California Academy of Sciences Green Roof, San Francisco

Citygarden, St. Louis

Gary Comer Youth Center Green Roof, Chicago

Chop Stick, Indianapolis

Lafayette Greens, Downtown Detroit

Yorkville Park, Toronto

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