When RTA Architects released four design concepts for the new Pikes Peak Summit Complex last October, they sought public input — and got more than they bargained for.
While a few area residents liked the sweeping 1950s modernist designs that they seemed to be presenting, many others were appalled. In vain did Stuart Coppedge and his colleagues explain that those vast white expanses weren’t part of the concepts, but tabulae rasa, blank slates to be filled in later.
Most comments reflected a surprising unity of vision. A substantial majority favored an unobtrusive, minimalist structure, one that would complement the summit, not overwhelm it.
Detailed renditions of the final concept were revealed Tuesday evening at El Pomar. Failing to anticipate the amount and intensity of public interest in the long-deferred project, the city scheduled the presentation in a small meeting space. At least 300 people packed the room, a number that was clearly far above the Fire Department’s maximum occupancy. It was standing-room only in the suddenly airless space, but neither the architects nor their hosts appeared to notice. In a presentation that dragged on for 50 minutes before the actual designs were revealed, architects from RTA and partner firm GWWO droned on and on — but it was worth the wait.
Nestled unobtrusively in the southeast corner of the summit plain, the low stone, steel and glass building seems to flow naturally out of the mountain. A pair of observation decks will flank the structure with unobstructed views to the east, southeast and south.
Entering the summit house from the upper level, a glass-enclosed pavilion capped with a weathered steel roof, visitors will see Mt. Rosa framed in the window to the southeast. The interior will be airy, light-filled and unobtrusive, accented with natural materials such as beetle-killed pine and granite.
Approximately one-third of the building’s exterior will be glass, with the remainder weathered steel or granite. It’s not clear whether the architects will use Pikes Peak granite, which seems like the obvious choice. In the presentation, one member of the team said that the granite used would have a smoother, more finished appearance than the summit’s native stone.
The striking visitor center is just one element of the summit complex, which will include the Army’s High-Altitude Research Laboratory, a communications facility operated by Colorado Springs Utilities and water, wastewater, electrical and heating functions essential to daily operations.
There will also be an emergency “shelter hut” on the summit for stranded hikers, although it won’t be a de facto overnight camping facility.
Here are a couple of edited excerpts from the presentation.
Like the interior finishes, the exterior materials will primarily be selected for durability and contextual appropriateness. It is critical that this building does not become a maintenance burden. One of the advantages to the selected option is that much of the building abuts the earth itself, with less exterior façade than a completely above-ground building, limiting the amount of exterior enclosure. The selected orientation also limits the amount of glass exposed to the grit that blows across the summit, as well as providing for maximum solar gain. Rock excavated from the building site will be used to help define the vehicular and pedestrian circulation around the summit. Parking will be designed to minimize the impact of cars on the summit, and accessible pedestrian paths will ring the summit and reach overlooks with great views in all directions, including the dramatic north face. The paths will also connect to the Barr and Crags trails.
Building Site /Landscaping
The building is sited to take advantage of the unique environmental conditions present on the top of Pikes Peak. Nestled into the mountain, exposure to wind is minimized, while the mass of the building provides sheltered outdoor areas from which to enjoy the views. The orientation of the building to the south takes full advantage of solar gain at altitude, including daylight harvesting and the incorporation of photovoltaics to generate electricity. In addition, the thermal mass of the building’s stone cladding will capture and radiate heat generated by the sun to the interior of the building. Other sustainable features include composting toilets and low flow fixtures to conserve water. Areas of intact tundra will be preserved, and a long-term plan developed to restore additional alpine plantings.
When final, the design will be formally presented to the U.S. Forest Service for approval. G.E. Johnson Construction Co. is scheduled to start construction early next year, aiming for a 2020 completion date. It’ll be a complex and difficult job, with many elements of the building prefabricated in Colorado Springs and trucked to the summit.