A Room with a View: Canada’s Glacier Skywalk

It’s hard to believe Jeremy Sturgess is intimidated by mountains. But the renowned Canadian architect of one of the most innovative glacier viewing platforms in the world was once a little apprehensive about his much-loved project.

“My instinct is to be by the ocean,” Sturgess admits. But perhaps that trepidation amid the awe-inspiring landscape of the Canadian Rockies is why his project is both adventuresome and reassuring.

“I wanted it to appeal to people like me, who are not instinctively out there,” comments Sturgess.

The architect became involved in 2010, when Parks Canada sought bids for a project to encourage visitors to really “see” the effects of climate change and make climate change more relevant to visitors. “There’s no question how fabulous the landscape is. I wanted to do something to attune you to the place,” explains Sturgess. “To get you more comfortable than you might be.”

He entered the competition in Jasper National Park simply to branch out – and away from his traditional practice of residential design. After winning the competition, Sturgess began the arduous design-build process: “Careful what you wish for,” he chuckles. But unlike other projects, the collaboration was respectful as architect, engineer and contractor – who is both a bridge specialist and a mountain climber – figured out how to make this dream a reality, with the Glacier Skywalk opening in 2015.

“Everything was invented at every level. We needed this building to be off the grid, not requiring any energy in its operations and then also connect, one-on-one, with the place where the world is changing literally in front of your eyes,” he declares.

The result, at first, appears to be simply a self-contained visitor kiosk, alongside a decades-old parking lot. But just below the horizon runs a 500-meter walkway – adjacent to the mountain – that dips, lowers and educates visitors as they stroll along it. From the starting viewpoint, where the entire skywalk can be seen, continuing to a “cave” of interpretive panels, there’s a last gateway featuring panels about local animals and plants.

Most stunning is where the walkway eventually leads: the parabolic-shaped skywalk juts out from the cliff face. Visitors, looking down to the glass floor and up and over the edge, appear to be hanging off the mountainside – while viewing an awesome glacial valley.

“You’re orchestrating a series of events that lead, almost in a musical sense, to a climax,” shares Sturgess. “Yet standing out in the parking lots, there’s none of the music.”

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