Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center by GWWO Architects

Pikes Peak

New Pikes Peak Summit Complex (PPSC) Expected to Open in Early Summer was undertaken in association with local firm, RTA Architects as architect of record. Pikes Peak, the most visited of Colorado’s great mountains, has long claimed a powerful hold on the public imagination. More than half a million people each year ascend to the summit. For visitors today, the perspective from 14,115 feet still evokes the awe and optimism of a seemingly limitless vista across the continent.

This is the breathtaking setting for the Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center, a new building designed to enhance the experience of reaching the top. The facility’s careful placement and sensitive design puts the focus on the stunning landscape, allowing boundless sky and views to take center stage. Its form and materials, with stone inspired by Pikes Peak granite, evoke the crags and rock formations found above the tree line.

The design orients visitors within the landscape and accommodates exhibitions that allow for a deeper understanding of the history and significance of Pikes Peak. Entering the pavilion lobby from the peak, visitors are taken aback by the perfectly framed view of Mount Rosa, the summit that Zebulon Pike climbed on his 1806 expedition to survey the territory that had been recently acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase.

The architecture of the pavilion highlights the relationship between the two landforms; the lobby walls descend at the 3.5-degree angle from Pikes Peak to Mount Rosa, with the same angle echoed by the upward slope of the roof. Stairs to the main level appear to fold down out of the mountain, as visitors descend to the main floor to access exhibits, dining, a gift shop, and restrooms.

Warm, rustic colors and natural materials, such as locally sourced timber, further connect the interior to the landscape. With its terraced design, the building itself serves as an ideal platform from which to survey the views. It features two accessible roof decks: one poised above an outdoor dining terrace, the other an overhang that shelters the lower-level entrance.

Together with a third elevated viewing platform, the North Overlook, and a network of protected walkways, the new Visitor Center stages a series of opportunities to experience the drama of the landscape. Environmental stewardship is central to the design, and the team embraced the challenge to create a highly sustainable building in one of the most difficult settings imaginable.

The Visitor Center is designed to achieve at least LEED Silver certification, and also to meet the Living Building Challenge, an even more progressive environmental performance standard; it would be the first federal building, and the first in Colorado, to meet this goal. Passive design strategies significantly reduce the building’s energy needs, starting with the building’s southern orientation on the site to take advantage of daylight. A highly insulated concrete shell and in-floor radiant heating, together with the thermal mass of the stone cladding, help to retain heat.

These strategies equip the building for an extreme climate, where winter temperatures can reach as low as negative 40 degrees. Moreover, the building is designed to achieve net-zero energy, with remote solar arrays that can supply the building’s operational energy needs. It is also designed to achieve net-zero water by utilizing rainwater and snow harvest and reuse. Source and images Courtesy of GWWO Architects.

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