Pikes Peak Visitor Center | Colorado Springs, COSee The Collaboration
Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center
Colorado Springs, CO
Architect: RTA Architects and GWWO Architects
Glazing Contractor: El Paso Glass
Contractor: GE Johnson
Glass Manufacturers: Walker Glass and Vitro Architectural Glass
Fabricator: Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope
The Highest Level of Excellence
Pikes Peak, located on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, is known as “America’s Mountain.” It is the nation’s only mountaintop of at least 14,000 feet in altitude that anyone can visit, regardless of age or fitness level. In fact, its summit is a National Historic Landmark. Each year, more than half a million people scale the mountain to marvel at the breathtaking views that inspired Katherine Lee Bates to write her poem “America the Beautiful.” When the aging visitor center could no longer serve the number of guests attracted to the mountaintop each year, plans for a new visitor center moved into high gear.
Pikes Peak stands 14,115 feet above sea level, making it the highest-altitude construction site in North America. Extreme weather capable of wind gusts of up to 270 mph, temperatures of 40 degrees below zero, and year-round snow created challenges for the design and construction team. And in another layer of complexity, the Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center was designed to achieve both LEED Silver and Living Building Challenge certifications, the latter being the world’s most rigorous proven performance standard for buildings.
Why OBE Was Selected
The harsh environment had taken its toll on the original summit structure, which was built in the 1960s. “It was very old, and it was falling apart,” says Lauren McMillon, OBE’s project manager. OBE was brought onto the design team early and worked directly with El Paso Glass, the glazing contractor, and the architects to help meet the stringent design requirements.
“Designing curtain wall systems which could withstand the extreme weather conditions while also meeting the stringent requirements of the Living Building Challenge, was certainly a large task for everyone involved with the project,” said Erik Martin, President of El Paso Glass. “Lauren and the OBE team were great to work with throughout the process and after much collaboration I believe we landed on a design which visitors can enjoy for generations,” he continued.
How OBE Met the Challenge
OBE rose to the occasion by assembling a large internal team of OBE experts to devise key strategies for each and every aspect and requirement needed to build and meet specs, ensuring every detail was considered and accounted for. This included:
- Conducting project-specific performance mock-up impact testing at wind speeds of up to 270 miles per hour
- Cladding the aluminum vertical mullions in stainless steel to protect them from the corroding effect of high winds bearing particles of granite
- Adding those mullions to the Reliance StormMax High Performance 10-foot system that could be attached directly to the structural steel building framing
- Researching and documenting vendor compliance with the Living Building Challenge’s material ingredient Red List
Obviously, OBE’s curtain wall is especially important for its ability to make the spectacular vistas possible while protecting guests from the often-brutal conditions. At the same time, all that glass could have posed a hazard to the area’s many migratory and predatory birds.
As Architectural Products noted, “RTA Architects also understood the importance of specifying bird-friendly glass for the Pikes Peak Summit visitor center.”
The team opted for a bird-friendly glass application, fabricating over 5,000 square feet of laminated glass with from Walker Glass’ AviProtek acid-etched linear patterns on the number 1 surface to protect wildlife.
The OBE facility based nearby in Denver also supplied clear insulating glass units with Solarban® 70 glass by Vitro Architectural to help the center reach it’s thermal performance goals. All told, the project has reduced energy consumption by 45 percent compared to the previous Summit House.
The project was no doubt challenging to install. It required significant coordination and planning by El Paso Glass to ensure a smooth installation at a dizzying 14,000 foot elevation with extreme weather conditions. Machinery could only run at 60% capacity and installation teams dealt with the possibility of altitude sickness. An EMT was available on site and a buddy system was put in place to ensure everyone’s safety. The teams worked closely together to coordinate delivery and installation, ensuring the safety of the team and a high-quality installation.
“Simply walking while a 14,000 feet in elevation is difficult, so handling curtain wall framing and 250 pound+ pieces of glass was extremely difficult,” noted Martin. “Credit goes to the El Paso Glass glaziers, they put in the hard work and completed a project we can all be proud of,” he concluded.
McMillon, who has managed hundreds of projects for OBE, laughs when asked where Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center stands on her personal list. “This one definitely stands out,” she says.