Shade That Does More

What if you could simultaneously provide visitors with much-needed shade while generating power? At the Saint Louis Zoo, a unique new shade solar canopy does just that.

Covering 89 acres in Forest Park, the Saint Louis Zoological Park is recognized as a leading zoo in animal management, research, conservation and education. Admission is free, though there are fees to attend certain exhibits.

KAI Design created the solar canopy for the zoo to provide shade for visitors, absorb light and generate power.

The solar panel shade canopy, officially called the Williams Family Solar Pavilion, provides shelter for a 2,200-square-foot dining area at a prominent location at the zoo. During the planning process for a retail renewal program in the hear of the zoological park, the project team recognized an opportunity to expand the amount of sheltered area for outdoor dining.

"The prominence of the location presented a unique opportunity and demanded ambitious aesthetic goals," said Carl Karlen, design principal at KAI and senior designer for the project. "The canopy overlooking the central lagoon is highly visible to the millions of annual visitors, many of whom will sit in its shade enjoying their meals. It will also host important after-hours events as a source of additional revenue. The generosity of a sponsor elevated the possibilities for a distinctive architectural solution, adding to the fabric of the historic and varied campus."

Discussions on sustainability and LEED certification goals led to the decision to include electrical power generated on-site from a solar power array. Design challenges included integration of technical requirements and aesthetics of the solar array itself (a steep 20-degree panel slope, exposed wiring and connections and an industrial appearance).

"The strategic location of the structure was selected to avoid disruption to seating and other uses," said Karlen. "LEED requirements for power generation and lighting spillover, and harmonization of the new structure with the existing naturalistic context were also considered."

The final architectural design allowed for inclusion of extensive custom artwork engraved into the Corten steel structure, which features aquatic life located throughout the park.



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