The grand opening of the Hamill Family Nature Plaza brings an exciting new area of exploratory learning to the Brookfield Zoo. The plaza, a collaboration between Booth Hansen Architects, Featherstone Inc., TERRA Engineering, and Hoerr Schaudt, is the latest addition to the Hamill Family Play Zoo, which was opened in 2001 as a space for children to get hands-on experience and encourage conservation of the natural world. The Hamill Family Nature Plaza does just that, with thematic gardens focused around science-based educational programming.
The Hamill Family Nature Plaza is a revitalization of the south end of the park, once the site of Baboon Island. The garden design infuses the site with vegetation, including 10,000 perennials, 8,200 square feet of perennial seeds, and 650 deciduous, evergreen, and flowering trees and shrubs.
Visitors head to the east side of the plaza for relaxation and imaginative play, with chimes and flower-shaped percussion instruments for impromptu orchestrations, and an over-sized nest that gives children a bird’s-eye perspective on life as a hatchling. The area has plenty of seating for families, and uses benches made of 90% recycled materials that are themselves 100% recyclable. On the edge of the area sits the Council Ring, a space named after prairie-style architect Jens Jensen which invites socializing and offers a gathering place for educational events.
On the west side, several garden spaces provide interactive discovery for families and classes. The science exploratory garden is the most formal, with benches for classes and workshops. A water interpretation garden is next, featuring wetland-type plantings and educational materials discussing water and drainage issues. Finally, a sensory garden sits off the main promenade, specifically designed with wide walkways and raised, accessible garden beds for all zoogoers.
In the center of the plaza sits the three-season pavilion, utilized for educational programs as well as casual chats between visitors and staff. The pavilion also has a dual use – it’s a perfect venue for private events, and can be rented out for everything from weddings to corporate celebrations.
The Peacock Café and Grill adjoins the space, serving up a sustainable menu with locally grown produce. And, for those guests that are 21+, the zoo’s branded beer “Hair of the Frog” is poured on draft.