Pikes Peak, the most visited of Colorado’s great mountains, has long claimed a powerful hold on the public imagination. More than one million people each year ascend to the summit, where they are rewarded with the view that inspired Katharine Lee Bates to write the lyrics of “America the Beautiful.” For visitors today, the perspective from 14,115 feet still evokes the awe and optimism of a seemingly limitless vista across the continent.
The “design concept is no less than brilliant.”
Embedded into the mountainside, the low-rise structure is seemingly carved from the southeast side of the peak. Its form and materials, with stone inspired by Pikes Peak granite, evoke the crags and rock formations found above the tree line. Seen from below, the building appears as a building of the mountain rather than one on the mountain, yet as visitors arrive at the summit it emerges into view as a clear destination.
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 viewing angle from the top of the lobby steps to Mt. Rosa slopes down 3.5-degrees, with the same angle echoed by the roof’s upward slope.
Inside, visitors are taken aback by the boundless sky and perfectly framed views of Mt. Rosa. 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. Exhibits highlight the mountain’s history, climate, geography, recreational opportunities, conservation initiatives, and more. Warm, rustic colors and natural materials, such as locally sourced timber, further connect the interior to 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 meet the Living Building Challenge and LEED Silver and aiming to achieve net zero energy and waste.
Passive design strategies contribute to a 45% energy reduction over the previous facility, starting with the building’s southern orientation to take advantage of daylight. A highly insulated concrete shell and in-floor radiant heating, together with the thermal mass of reclaimed fill below the floor slabs and of the stone cladding, help to retain heat. These strategies equip the building for an extreme climate where temperatures can drop to negative 40 degrees. Additional strategies include a vacuum system for toilets and blackwater to greywater conversion saving 350,000 gallons yearly; building zones that vary in temperature; biophilic principles; and building materials that are free of toxic red-list chemicals and materials. New site pathways help control foot traffic and protect the newly restored delicate tundra vegetation while frit-patterned curtain wall glazing minimizes strikes from migratory birds. Should rainwater harvesting receive state approval in the future, a rainwater collection-ready design is in place.