Indianapolis Zoo
  • Civic & Cultural

50,000 SF


2021 Award of Excellence, ASLA Indiana


Opening minds and fostering connections are the core challenges of conservation organizations like the Indianapolis Zoo.  The Bicentennial Pavilion was purposely designed as an awe-inspiring, other-worldly introduction to the zoo campus, intended to spike curiosity and wonder, preparing visitors for a deeply meaningful and educational experience


A major donation from the Lilly Endowment presented the Indianapolis Zoo with the opportunity to design a game-changing landmark that would accommodate special events and programming, more deeply engage visitors, and manifest their core values of conservation and sustainability. The solution would need to be an open-air special events facility, protected from inclement or marginal weather, and able to support a wide variety of sometimes-simultaneous group activities, including concerts, picnics, and private events, while also expanding on existing seasonal events in the Fall and Winter.  This new facility would have to be compelling enough to be an attraction of its own, but “quiet” enough to be transformed for special occasions and activities.

Conceptual Design


The Pavilion and Promenade design is inspired by Indiana forests and crafted primarily using natural and long-lasting materials, featuring local limestone and weathering steel. The Pavilion’s eleven tree-like “pods” provide 40,000 SF of weather-protected space and a unique, high-drama environment for up to 1000 seated event attendees.


Though integrated into the existing zoo landscape, the Pavilion is intended as a landmark, comfortable like a lodge and easily found when exploring the rest of the zoo campus.

Tree-like structures

The shelter covering 40,000 sf of area is comprised of eleven individual structures, each with a roof of cantilevered mass timber beams, composed together like a canopy of trees.

Illustrative Plan
Illustrative Plan
Illustrative Plan

Dappled Light and Shade

A mix of clear and translucent roofing materials allows sunlight to filter through to the ground below, emulating a forest-like setting.


Beneath the 35-foot canopy, a hearth of rough-back quarry block limestone serves as a visual centerpiece and provides warmth during colder weather.

Rain Shadows

Understanding how to configure the canopy structures and the programming elements below them, the design team pinpointed areas that would receive incidental rain from typical precipitation and wind velocities.

Celebrating Ephemeral Events

While protecting patrons from its inclement nature, the Pavilion is designed to celebrate the more momentary and life-giving aspects of a rain shower. Precipitation that reaches the canopy roof is funneled to the center of each pod where its energy is dissipated and its movement is celebrated as it falls across custom-designed, laser-cut weathering steel screens. Upon reaching the ground, the water is channeled to a series of raingardens where it is encouraged to percolate through the soil and into the natural groundwater aquifer.

Narrative Details

Throughout the Pavilion, visitors encounter the symbolic and storytelling nature of custom details expressed in weathering steel

Stage for Educational Programming

The Pavilion’s forest-like environment also provides a unique location for the Zoo’s bird experience, Magnificent Macaws, with a custom-designed stage and perch that showcases the birds flight through the Pavilion every hour.

Magnificent Macaws Show