GWWO Architects and Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain have announced that the Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center in Colorado—the highest construction project in the United States at 14,115-feet—will make its public debut early this summer following an over five-year design and construction period.
Described in a press announcement as a “model for ecological stewardship and accessibility that enhances the experience of reaching the top with modern amenities and expanded opportunities to engage with the history, climate, and natural beauty of the summit,” the 38,000-square-foot hub will open its sky-high doors to guests (Pikes Peak is the most visited mountain in both the Centennial State and North America with a half-million annual visitors) in either late May or early June depending on weather conditions.
GWWO, based in the decidedly non-vertiginous locale of Baltimore, worked alongside Colorado Springs-based architect of record RTA Architects on the superlatively high project for Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain, which is an enterprise of the City of Colorado Springs. Colorado’s second most populous city, Colorado Springs also recently gained another marquee tourist destination in the form of the Diller Scofidio + Renfro-designed U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum, which opened this past summer.
Colorado is home to a total of 58 mountain peaks topping 14,000 feet (colloquially known as the “fourteeners”) and the summit of Pikes Peak, located roughly 12 miles west of Colorado Springs’ growing downtown core, is considered one of the most accessible to visitors of all ages and physical abilities. Hikers often choose to ascend the mountain via a challenging trail journey while others access the summit directly by car or along the historic Broadmoor Pikes Peak Cog Railway. First established in 1889, the railway is the highest in the United States and travels up the mountain at an average grade of 12 percent along a dizzying round-trip journey that takes just over three hours. The railway has been closed since 2019 for a major reconstruction project and is set to reopen for the 2021 summer summit-visiting season.
Referring to the new Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center, as “a project almost without precedent,” Alan Reed, design principal at GWWO, said: “Creating an ecologically responsible environment where all visitors can comfortably experience the history and breathtaking setting informed every decision about the design, inside and out.”
Designed to achieve LEED Silver certification or higher, the low-rise facility, which replaces an aging 50-year-old summit compound, features interpretive exhibits, a cafe, gift shop, restrooms in an inviting alpine setting that incorporates natural materials such as locally-sourced timber. The pavilion’s exterior boasts a series of spacious outdoor terraces and roof decks so that visitors can take in the sweeping views without leaving the immediate building complex. Around the main Summit House complex is a network of elevated walkways integrated into the tundra landscape designed with rest stops and gradual elevator changes to “seamlessly accommodate people with disabilities and help mitigate the fatigue that can occur at high altitude.”
Per the press announcement, the form and materials of the building, which is carefully tucked into the mountainside for minimal visual disruption, “evoke the crags and rock formations found above the tree line.” As noted by the architects, when the structure is viewed from below, it “appears as a building of the mountain rather than one on the mountain.”
In addition to LEED certification, the Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center is also pursuing Living Building Challenge certification. To meet this demanding environmental benchmark, the building incorporates numerous energy- and water-saving features while standing up against some truly challenging conditions including sub-zero temperatures and incredibly high winds. (The building is designed to be both net-zero energy and net-zero water.) If the project’s high-reaching sustainability goals are achieved, the center would be the first building within a National Historic Landmark and the first building in Colorado to achieve Living Building status according to the press statement.
Closer to home and at much lower elevations, other GWWO projects of note include the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center, the Robinson Nature Center in Columbia, Maryland, and the Fort McHenry Visitor & Education Center in Baltimore.