The Icefield Parkway Project, Jasper Alberta

BLP members, in collaboration with environmental services firm Golder Associates, helped to pursue and win this much coveted $21M project. 

The Icefields Parkway is a scenic two-lane highway connecting Lake Louise and Jasper, runs parallel to the North American continental divide and draws over 1.5 million visitors a year. Formidable in its successive vistas of mountain peaks, rushing rivers and hairpin turns, the winding route has no shortage of attractions.

The Glacier Skywalk aims to improve upon such natural perfection. A striking glass-floored observation deck cantilevered over the Sunwapta Valley, the Skywalk is a $21-million project commissioned by Brewster Travel Canada and designed by Read Jones Christoffersen Consulting Engineers (RJC) and Sturgess Architecture.

To mitigate traffic congestion at the apex of a steep hill, the Glacier Skywalk is only accessible by a Brewster-run bus from the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre, a few kilometres down the highway. Once at the site, visitors pass through a faceted canopy structure that serves as a kiosk, its angled planes of Corten steel undercut with warm wood cladding. Beyond, a thin band of pathway cut into the hillside conveys visitors to and from the glass-floored observation deck. Gabion walls and steel plates delineate the dual pathway, which gently rises and falls following the contours of the terrain.

Six interpretive stations, executed in the same weathering steel, punctuate the 300-metre route. The stations feature didactic panels that address the glaciology, biology, plant life and hydrology of the area as well as the technology behind the Skywalk. The first of these is a sharply jutting steel viewpoint–a scaled-down iteration of the cantilevered structure to come–that introduces visitors to the Sunwapta Valley.

Other interpretive stations, however, lack cohesion: the folded steel canopy of the Ecology node is muddied by two-dimensional cutouts of wildlife, while the Phytology station seems an afterthought, consisting of little more than a steel planter box dwarfed by its surroundings.

While some visitors may be more attracted to the Skywalk itself rather than the view, the combination of infrastructure and landscape provides a thrilling experience. The Skywalk is an aesthetic and structural feat, both otherworldly and at home in the Canadian Rockies. It is resolutely a response to the landscape, its powerful gesture and raw materials executed in a language abstracted from its surroundings. 

Project partners included:

Client Brewster Travel Canada | Design Team PCL Construction Management (Design-Build Team Leader)–Scott Updegrave, Keith Bowers. Read Jones Christoffersen (Prime Consultant)–Simon Brown, Geoff Kallweit, Mark Ritchie. Sturgess Architecture (Architect)–Jeremy Sturgess, Jan Kroman, David Tyl, Bob Horvath. | Structural Read Jones Christoffersen Ltd. | Electrical SMP Engineering | Traffic Urban Systems LTD. | Dynamic Wind Modelling Rowan Williams Davies & Irwin Inc.  | Environmental Golder Associates | Geotechnical Thurber Engineering | Contractor PCL Construction Management |

  • Area 5,500 ft2
  • Budget $21 M
  • Completion May 2014