Solar Canopy Provides Energy And Shelter At Saint Louis Zoo

Designed by KAI Design with solar panels installed by Power UP, the structure provides shelter for a 2,200 square foot dining area at a prominent location in the zoo.

Earlier this year, KAI Design, a design and build firm with offices across the U.S., created a distinctive solar canopy for the Saint Louis Zoo to provide much-needed shade for visitors, while also generating power for the facility.

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

solar canopy
The Williams Family Solar Pavilion at the Saint Louis Zoo (Photo: KAI Design)

“The prominence of the location presented a unique opportunity and demanded ambitious aesthetic goals,” said Carl Karlen, design principal at KAI and senior designer on 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 yielded 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.

Power UP installed the panels, and KAI Build was the general contractor on the project.