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.
The walkway is based on the concept of cropping out from the landscape, creating an experience of a natural extension of the land. “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,” explains Jeremy Sturgess who heads Sturgess Architecture. “The design is founded in the idea of a mountainside outcropping, to exist as an organic extension of the landscape.”
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.
“The apparent eccentricity of supporting the walkway on only one side is resolved by the opposing actions of a tensile cable support and a compression tube mounted below it; both working in combination with the curvature of the walkway,” says Simon Brown, Associate at the structural engineering firm Read Jones Christoffersen Consulting Engineers.
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. The Glacier Skywalk will open to the public in May, 2014.