Black Bear Cafe, Potawatomi Zoo

The Potawatomi Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in Indiana. Established in 1921, it began as a duck pond in South Bend’s Potawatomi Park, but today PZ is a 23-acre zoological park, the home of over 400 animals. The zoo’s mission is to promote and advance education, conservation, and animal research. PZ’s priorities are to protect and preserve the diversity of species on Earth and provide stimulating and engaging experiences for animals and zoogoers.


Consistent with the zoo’s mission, the design of the new café building and new black bear habitat strives to provide new modes of interaction between visitors and animals. The edge between the animal habitat and the built environment for human use is carefully manipulated, introducing spaces where visitors and animals can engage and experience one another, creating a condition of discovery and reciprocity.


The boundary between the interior space of the café and the outdoor bear habitat consists of a folding glass wall that serves as an invisible screen. The reciprocating glass plane recedes and receives the space of the outdoor world of the bears into the visitor dining space and pushes forward into the habitat, blurring the boundary between the space for people and the area for bears. This push and pull between interior and exterior spaces allows for unique shifts in movement, which bring the visitors and the animals in physical and visual alignment, intensifying their experience of each other. The main dining room ultimately serves as an interactive device that allows visitors to reimagine their relationship with wildlife as one of mutual dependence.


The expansive wood roof of the concessions building is imagined as a giant parasol, passively cooling the space within and endowing the building with its unique architectural character. The program for the building includes indoor dining space for 75 people and outdoor dining spaces under the “porches” to the south and west. A warm, daylit servery welcomes visitors as they enter, queue, and receive their meals before proceeding to indoor or outdoor dining spaces. A large kitchen and storage facility are located north of the server, and public restrooms are directly connected to dining spaces. Thermally broken, insulated glass overhead doors open on the main porch, creating a seamless connection with the public plaza to the south. When weather conditions are optimal, the concessions building will function as an open-air pavilion activating the plaza’s space. The main dining room is designed as a flexible space, accommodating different functions and activities. The café space and adjacent public plaza will also be commissioned for events, generating a new revenue stream for the zoo.


Location South Bend, Indiana
Completion Date 2023
Program Cafe/Restaurant/Exhibit