Lincoln Park Zoo Pepper Family Wildlife Center, Chicago

2022 Landmarks Illinois Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award for Rehabilitation & Winner of the Richard H. Driehaus Legacy Award

Sitting at the heart of Lincoln Park Zoo, the 1912 lion house, designed by architect Dwight Perkins, has long been one of the zoo’s biggest attractions. Expectations for zoo keepers and visitors have, however, changed in recent decades and the zoo has focused on creating healthier and more sustainable animal habitats and improving experiences for all zoo guests.

Through a $41 million renovation, restoration and expansion, the new 54,000-square-foot Pepper Wildlife Center houses the zoo’s African lions, Canada lynx, red pandas and snow leopards. The feature lion habitat nearly doubled in size, with a design driven by behavior data collected by zoo researchers. The savanna-style habitat includes climbing features and embedded heating and cooling elements for climate control as well as new food zip lines, simulating prey, that provide enrichment opportunities for the zoo’s animals.

The renovation restored the original Arts & Crafts structure and returned the Guastavino-tile clad Great Hall to its original 1912 appearance. Guests now have immersive “nose-to-nose” viewing opportunities, including from the new Lion Loop, an elliptical sunken path. The facility is also now fully accessible for all visitors. The Lincoln Park Zoo Pepper Family Wildlife Center is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is a designated Chicago local landmark.

(Photo credit: Tom Harris)


Lincoln Park Zoo: Megan Ross, Ph.D., President & Chief Executive Officer; Maureen Leahy, Vice President, Animal Care & Horticulture

Richard & Roxelyn Pepper

Architect: Goettsch Partners – Michael Kaufman, AIA, LEED AP; Leonard Koroski, FAIA, LEED AP; Patrick Loughran, FAIA, PE, LEED AP; Joachim Schuessler

Owner’s Representative: Project Management Advisors (PMA) – Heather Amro (formerly with PMA)

Exhibit Architect: Patrick Janikowski, PJA Architects + Landscape Architects

MEP Engineer: Erin Lowery, Primera Engineers

Structural Engineer: Randall Herbstman, WSP

Civil Engineer: Katherine Kenefake, Terra Engineering

Façade/Roof Consultant: Susan Reinhold, Revive Architecture

General Contractor: Greg Leofanti, Pepper Construction

Lighting Consultant: Erin Held, CharterSills

Acoustical Consultant: Polyana Frangetto, Kirkegaard

(Photo credit: Goettsch Partners)


Leonard Koroski, Patrick Loughran and Joachim Schuessler – Goettsch Partners

The Pepper Family Wildlife Center is one of a limited number of remaining historic zoo buildings in the United States and one of a very few to retain both its original function and so many of its original features, including the interior. It is a prominent centerpiece for Lincoln Park Zoo and has been a focal point of many memories for generations of Chicagoans. The building bears the imprint of early 20th century zookeeping, in contrast with over 100 years of innovation and improvements in the quality of care of the zoo’s animals.

The Pepper Family Wildlife Center is most important to us and to the public because it is the home of some of our most important wildlife – lions, lynx, red pandas and snow leopards. And the zoo’s lion pride is now growing; only five months after the reopening, the Lincoln Park Zoo celebrated the arrival of Pilipili, the first African lion cub born at the zoo in 20 years.

(Photo credit: Tom Harris)


Leonard Koroski, Patrick Loughran, and Joachim Schuessler – Goettsch Partners

The Pepper Family Wildlife Center advances Lincoln Park Zoo’s vision to inspire communities to create environments where wildlife can thrive in our urbanizing world. With the demonstration training wall where visitors can view the cats participating in their healthcare or see lions chase “prey” throughout the habitat, 3.6 million annual guests will get a chance to learn about this species and care about their wild counterparts.

Bringing lions back to Lincoln Park Zoo in a way that blends the institution’s past with its future has been an important part of The Pride of Chicago campaign, a $135 million effort committed to advancing the zoo’s reputation as an immersive home for wildlife, an inspiring and free experience for guests, and a leader in science and learning. The new habitat also serves to increase awareness of the zoo’s conservation efforts. This zoo’s Tanzania Conservation Research Program is dedicated to saving lion populations throughout their native range by protecting migratory corridors, working with communities to keep lions safe and ensuring a future for this threatened species.

A specially designed Lion Loop allows visitors to walk through the exterior lion habitat via a built-in walkway in the center of the building. Not only does this space provide a unique perspective of what it’s like to be with the lion pride, a meeting room included just off the walkway allows for a singular meeting experience, with glass and views on two sides. It’s all part of Lincoln Park Zoo’s effort to provide Chicago with a magical place for all to enjoy.

(Photo credit: Jill Dignan)

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