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Goettsch Partners completes Lincoln Park Zoo’s Pepper Family Wildlife Center

Cultural Facilities

Goettsch Partners completes Lincoln Park Zoo’s Pepper Family Wildlife Center

The project doubles the size of the previous lion habitat.


By David Malone, Managing Editor | November 19, 2021
Pepper Family Wildlife Center great hall
Photos: © Tom Harris

Goettsch Partners has recently announced the completion of the $41 million renovation, restoration, and expansion of the Pepper Family Wildlife Center at Lincoln Park Zoo. The facility is home to a pride of African Lions, Canada Lynx, red pandas, and snow leopards.

The 54,000-sf facility nearly doubles the size of the previous lion habitat and provides increased transparency with a more immersive experience for visitors while restoring the architectural integrity of the original landmarked building. The habitat focuses on providing choices for the animals and enhanced wellbeing, from thermal comfort zones for heating and cooling to intricate rock work and trees for climbing.

Pepper Family Wildlife Center aerial

The original building, located at the heart of Lincoln Park Zoo, was originally completed in 1912 and designated a Chicago Landmark in 2005. The new lion habitat spans the full northern side of the building with the design informed by data collected by the zoo over the last several years on lion behavior and space use to understand their preferences.

Large 1 1/2”-thick glass panels provide expansive views of the outdoor lion space. The savanna-style habitat includes detailed rock work to introduce climbing features and expand environmental options for the lions while providing embedded heating and cooling elements for climate control. Tree structures and deadfall are made from trees certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Food zip lines, simulating prey, provide an enrichment opportunity for the lions.

Pepper Family Wildlife Center viewing alcove

The building’s design facilitates viewing from the Lion Loop, a sunken elliptical path leading visitors down from the TAWANI Great Hall into the center of the habitat. The loop provides visitors the opportunity to view lions from all around, even through the skylights overhead. Additionally, a demonstration training wall allows visitors to view the lions working with zoo staff to participate in their care.

Goettsch Partners designed the project in collaboration with Seattle-based zoo exhibit specialists PJA.

Pepper Family Wildlife Center Lion Loop

Pepper Family Wildlife Center at dusk

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