Dezeen Magazine

Sturgess Architecture's Glacier Skywalk offers unique views of the Canadian Rockies

This vertiginous viewing platform in the Canadian Rockies was designed by Calgary firm Sturgess Architecture with a strengthened glass floor that provides a view straight down to the valley below.


Sturgess Architecture created the cantilevered Glacier Skywalk as part of a 450-metre walkway in the Jasper National Park that provides spectacular views of the adjacent Sunwapta Valley and Athabasca Glacier.


Echoing the rugged masses of the surrounding mountains, the landscaped path features folded walls of weathered steel that are set into the hillside.


"We wanted to give people the opportunity to get out of their car, to experience this incredible landscape in a way that would provide a cerebral connection to our changing natural environment," said architect Jeremy Sturgess. "The design is founded in the idea of a mountainside outcropping, to exist as an organic extension of the landscape."


The walkway begins at a kiosk next to a drop-off area and continues along a trail with different zones dedicated to the ecology, geology, and history of the landscape. The parabolic skywalk is located at the far end of the walkway, where it cantilevers 30 metres from the rock face.


Suspended 280 metres above the ground and featuring a floor made from tempered and heat-strengthened glass, this walkway allows unobstructed views of the valley floor.


Anchored girders combined with a concealed cable suspension system create a balance of compression and tension that supports the curved path while minimising the visual structure.


A smaller cantilevered platform near the beginning of the path provides introductory information about glaciers and the way they have shaped the Sunwapta Valley, while information displays in a timber-lined pavilion by the skywalk explain the anthropological history of the area.


The weathered steel, glass, stone and wood used throughout the landscaping were chosen for their sustainable credentials and to complement the surrounding landscape of rocks, trees and water.


Sturgess Architecture collaborated with Read Jones Christoffersen Consulting Engineers on the technical aspects of the project. The team first unveiled the proposal in 2011.

Photography is by Robert Lemermeyer.

Here's a project description from Sturgess Architecture:

Glacier Skywalk

The Glacier Skywalk is a 1475-foot long (450-metre) interpretive walk carved and folded into the mountainous landscape of Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies. The Corten steel and glass structure cantilevers outward, overlooking the Sunwapta Valley and facing the Athabasca Glacier situated in an icefield straddling the Continental Divide where the North American watersheds diverge to the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Arctic Oceans.

Site plan - click for larger image

The walkway is based on the concept of cropping out from the landscape, creating an experience of a natural extension of the land.

The parabola cantilever, with a glass floor of tempered and heat-strengthened glass, reveals an unobstructed view below. The cantilever is the result of an engineering technique taking advantage of a balance formed by opposing tension and compression members and thereby eliminating the need for a more traditional superstructure of pylons and cables above the outlook.

Site plan and design diagram - click for larger image

Corten steel was selected for its weathering properties and the relationship to the changing mountain face that it represents. The materiality of the outcropped steel will age. The size of the Athabasca Glacier will alter. Both, capturing a capacity to mark time with change.