GWWO Architects - Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center, warm, rustic colors and natural materials
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Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center, warm, rustic colors and natural materials

GWWO Architects

Culture  /  Completed
GWWO Architects

For 130 years, Pikes Peak has been accessible to those of all ages and abilities. Recognizing that visitors have and will continue to ascend the mountain via cog railway, car or foot, replacing the previous aging facility from the 1960s was necessary. The careful placement and sensitive and sustainable design of the new visitor center places the focus on the peak’s stunning landscape and views that inspired "America the Beautiful." Embedded into the mountainside, the low-rise structure is seemingly carved from the southeast side of the peak. Its form and materials evoke the crags and rock formations found above the tree line. Seen from below, the building appears of the mountain rather than one on the mountain, yet as visitors arrive at the summit, it emerges as a clear destination.

Entering from the peak, visitors see a framed view of Mt. Rosa, the summit Zebulon Pike climbed in 1806. Stairs to the main level appear to fold down out of the mountain, as visitors descend to the main floor to access exhibits, dining, and retail. Warm, rustic colors and natural materials connect the interior to the landscape. With its terraced design, the building itself serves as an ideal platform from which to survey the views. Featuring two accessible roof decks, an elevated viewing platform, and a network of protected walkways, the center stages a series of opportunities to experience the drama of the landscape. Most importantly, the building provides refuge for all in the event of a severe weather change in this unpredictable climate.

The design aims to achieve Living Building Challenge, LEED Silver, and net zero energy and waste. Passive design strategies contribute to a 45% energy reduction, starting with the building’s southern orientation to take advantage of daylight. A highly insulated concrete shell and in-floor radiant heating equip the building for a climate where temperatures drop to -40°. Additional strategies include a vacuum system for toilets and blackwater to greywater conversion saving 350,000gal/yr; building zones that vary in temperature; biophilic principles; frit-patterned curtainwall glazing; new site pathways to protect the restored tundra; building materials free of toxic red-list chemicals; and a rainwater collection-ready design.

Pikes Peak is Colorado’s only fourteener where anyone can easily reach the summit. Accessibility, as much as the peak’s mythic status, has earned it the nickname “America’s Mountain,” and the design for the visitor center strengthens the uniquely democratic character of this public resource. The building not only provides for essential needs of dining, refreshments, and restrooms, but also serves as an interpretive center, orienting visitors within the landscape and providing exhibits that allow for a deeper understanding of the history and significance of Pikes Peak. Creating a comfortable environment for visitors informed every decision, inside and out. Dining terraces on the south side of the facility, ideally situated for taking in the views, are sheltered from the winds by the building itself. Visitors who wish to wander the summit can follow a series of fully accessible walkways, which are designed with gradual elevation changes and resting areas to mitigate the fatigue that can occur at high altitude. The elevated walkways offer the chance to explore the tundra landscape, all while protecting this fragile ecosystem. With modern amenities and expanded opportunities to engage with the history, ecology, and natural beauty of the summit, the new, sustainable visitor center allows Pikes Peak—once considered impossible to climb and now an iconic American destination—to continue to inspire for generations to come.

“Building at such a high altitude is a difficult undertaking, and I am proud of the vision and foresight that has created this very impressive, highly accessible and sustainable venue that blends so well into its natural environment. We look forward with great anticipation to providing visitors from all over the world a breathtaking new experience at the top of America’s Mountain.” John Suthers, Mayor of Colorado Springs

Credits

 Cascade
 Colorado, USA
 Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain
 Visitor Center
 09/2022
 3549 mq
  52,000,000.00 $
 GWWO Architects, Design Architect; RTA Architects, Architect of Record
 GWWO Architects: Alan Reed, Al Ip, Amanda Moore, Pat Fava, Zach Grajewski; RTA Architects: Stuart Coppedge, Mike Riggs, Brian Calhoun
 GE Johnson
 Landscape Architect: DHM Design; Exhibit Design: Gallagher & Associates; MEP Engineer: BranchPattern; Structural Engineer: HCDA Engineering, Inc.; Civil Engineer: Kiowa Engineering Corporation; Food Service Design: Webb Food Service Design; Code and Accessibility: Jensen Hughes; Wastewater Treatment Design: JVA, Inc.; Public Relations and Communication: Bachman PR
 Nic Lehoux

Curriculum

Mission-driven work—projects that support our communities, culture, education, environment, and history—is GWWO’s focus and our passion. We’ve refined and elevated the interpretive center typology, embracing sustainability, inclusivity, accessibility, and social impact, in the process of telling our clients’ stories. In these projects—visitor centers, museums, nature centers—history and culture are embedded in evocative and inspirational design solutions that enhance the visitor experience, act as mechanisms for educating the public about our nation’s diverse history, and are respectful of their contexts and environments. GWWO’s design excellence has been recognized with 100+ local, state, and national awards, including the 2021 and 2020 AIA Maryland Public Buildings of the Year. Most recent achievements include Editors’ Pick for Best of Practice by The Architect’s Newspaper and ranking by ARCHITECT Magazine as a top firm in sustainability.

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