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at over 14,000 feet, colorado's pikes peak is topped with a new visitor center

a mountaintop refuge

 

A new visitors center has opened at the summit of Colorado‘s Pikes Peak, known for its majestic beauty and historical significance, situated at an elevation of 14,115 feet. Designed by GWWO Architects with RTA Architects as the architect of record, the newly completed project stands as the highest visitor center in the world. With its careful integration into the mountainside and its sensitive design, the center welcomes explorers and enhances the experience of summiting the peak while highlighting the distant, panoramic landscape.

pikes peak visitor centerimage © Nic Lehoux | header image © Windstar Studios

 

 

the experience of summiting pikes peak

 

Embedded seamlessly into the mountainside, the low-rise structure of the visitor center appears to be carved out of the southeast side of Pikes Peak. As the architects draw inspiration from the granite found in the area, the building’s materials and form reflect the crags and rock formations above the tree line. As visitors approach the summit, the center emerges as a clear destination, appearing as if it is a part of the mountain itself. Upon entering the building, visitors are greeted with a perfectly framed view of Mount Rosa, the summit that Zebulon Pike climbed during his expedition in 1806.

pikes peak visitor center
image © Nic Lehoux

 

 

The architecture of the pavilion emphasizes the relationship between the two landforms, with the viewing angle from the top of the lobby steps sloping down 3.5-degrees, mirroring the roof’s upward slope. The warm, rustic colors and locally sourced timber further connect the interior to the surrounding landscape. The building’s terraced design provides ideal platforms, including accessible roof decks, outdoor dining terraces, and elevated viewing platforms, to fully experience the dramatic beauty of the landscape.

pikes peak visitor center
image © Nic Lehoux

 

 

the sustainable design by gwwo architects

 

Environmental stewardship was a central consideration in the design of the Pikes Peak Visitor Center. The architectural team embraced the challenge of creating a highly sustainable building in one of the most challenging settings imaginable. The center is designed to achieve at least LEED Silver certification and meet the stringent requirements of the Living Building Challenge, making it the first federal building in Colorado to do so. Passive design strategies were employed to reduce energy needs, such as the building’s southern orientation to maximize daylight and solar gain at high altitude.

pikes peak visitor center
image © Nic Lehoux

 

 

The highly insulated concrete shell, in-floor radiant heating, and thermal mass of the stone cladding help retain heat in extreme winter conditions. Furthermore, the center is designed to achieve net-zero energy and incorporates future remote solar arrays to supply the building’s operational energy needs. Sustainable building practices are reinforced through the use of local materials free from toxic and Red List chemicals. The center also significantly reduces water usage through vacuum flush toilets and blackwater to greywater conversion, saving more than 350,000 gallons of water per year.

pikes peak visitor center
image © Nic Lehoux

 

 

an accessible ‘fourteener’

 

Pikes Peak’s accessibility sets it apart as Colorado’s only ‘fourteener’ that can be easily reached by anyone, regardless of physical ability. The visitor center’s design further strengthens the democratic character of this cherished public resource. In addition to providing essential amenities such as dining, refreshments, and restrooms, the center serves as an interpretive hub, orienting visitors within the landscape and offering exhibitions to deepen their understanding of Pikes Peak’s history and significance. Comfort and convenience were prioritized throughout the design process.

 

Dining terraces strategically positioned on the south side of the facility provide shelter from the winds, allowing visitors to savor the views. Fully accessible walkways with gradual elevation changes and resting areas mitigate fatigue at high altitudes, enabling visitors to explore the summit and its fragile tundra landscape. With modern amenities and expanded opportunities for engagement, the sustainable visitor center ensures that Pikes Peak continues to inspire generations to come.

pikes-peak-visitors-center-colorado-designboom-06a

image © Nic Lehoux

at over 14,000 feet, colorado's pikes peak is topped with a new visitor center
image © Nic Lehoux

pikes-peak-visitors-center-colorado-designboom-08a

image © Windstar Studios

 

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project info:

 

project title: Pikes Peak Visitor Center

design architect: GWWO Architects @gwwoarchitects

location: Pikes Peak summit, Colorado Springs, Colorado

architect of record: RTA Architects @rta_architects

landscape architecture: DHM Design

exhibit design: Gallagher & Associates

MEP engineer: BranchPattern

structural engineer: HCDA Engineering

civil engineer: Kiowa Engineering

completion: May 2023

photography: © Nic Lehoux@nic.lehoux

drone photography: © Windstar Studios @windstarstudios

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