Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center

Seamless, Immersive Experience Atop Pikes Peak in Cascade, Colorado

by Chris Fronsoe, National Architectural Manager for the Northwest Region, Vitro Architectural Glass

At the crest of Pikes Peak sits the new, state-of-the-art Pikes Peak Summit visitor center.  Located in Cascade, Colorado, this modern facility provides a seamless, immersive experience that allows visitors to be surrounded by the natural forms of the environment as well as the expansive views of the rugged landscape surrounding America’s Mountain.

         While Pikes Peak has stunning vistas, at an elevation of 14,000’, the environment can also be extremely hostile.  The high-alpine terrain as well as arctic-level climate and hurricane-force winds present many unique challenges.  Upwards of a 1/4” of wind-borne debris can be moved around on the summit with ease.

         With all these challenges, specifying glass in this unique environment is highly important, as it must be able to withstand a myriad of natural forces.  Fortunately for architect of record, RTA Architects Inc., Colorado Springs, Colorado, the firm found the perfect solution in Solarban® 70 glass by Vitro Architectural Glass.

         “Working and designing for the summit of Pikes Peak is like a giant science experiment because there are so many different variables,” said Mike Riggs, associate principal, RTA Architects.  “We had several partners do wind analysis, and their assessments indicated winds of more than 195 mph.  We found that most of the glass types we sampled would be heavily degraded by the environment.  So, the composition of Solarban 70 glass and its uniqueness to resist not only the wind pressures but also wind-born debris played an important role in our selection.”

         Solarban 70 glass strikes the right balance between form and function with a transparent, color-neutral aesthetic and unprecedented solar control and visible light transmittance (VLT).  When coupled with conventional clear glass in a 1” insulating glass unit, Solarban 70 glass features a solar heat gain coefficient of 0.27 and VLT of 64%.

All photos courtesy of Tom Kessler

         “The previous summit building had very limited glazing and viewpoint opportunities, which closed off the building from the natural environment,” said Riggs.  “Now, visitors can truly take in the mountain, its beautiful vistas, and gorgeous environment.  Then there’s the thermal aspect to Solarban 70 glass.  We had to work with the dynamic of the arctic-level climate and the building spaces.  We wanted to take in as much solar heat gain through this environment as we could while also keeping out enough of it, so we didn’t overheat the space.”

         RTA Architects also understood the importance of specifying bird-friendly glass for the Pikes Peak Summit visitor center due to the many migratory and predatory birds in the area.  This portion was completed by Walker Glass, whose striped bird-friendly acid-etch treatment is visible on 10,000 sq.ft. of glass on the outside of the facility.  The stripes are meant to generate contrast so the birds will recognize the glass as an impassible medium.  Glass fabricator Oldcastle; glazing contractor El Paso Glass, Colorado Springs; and design architect, GWWO Architects, Baltimore, Maryland, were also partners in realizing the project.

         The Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center has received multiple awards and accolades since its opening in June 2021.  Recent honors include 2022 Project of the Year by ENR Mountain States, 2022 Colorado Professional Award presented by American Society of Landscape Architects, and 2022 American Council of Engineering Companies of Colorado Engineering Excellence Award.  Additionally, it’s the most sustainable high-altitude structure in the country, if not the world.  Close to one million visitors per year get to partake in this truly one-of-a-kind experience.

         “It’s a great recognition when doing the right things for the right place is awarded and recognized by, most importantly, the people that visit Pikes Peak, but also by the design and engineering teams,” said Riggs.  “I’ve never had a project in 20 years that really, deeply grabs your soul.  It’s a very deep connection I have now with the place, and it’s not necessarily with the building but how that building has become integrated with the place that’s Pikes Peak.”

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