Proj Overview

Project Overview

The newly opened Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center in Cascade, Colo., is the highest total precast concrete structure in the world. But constructing it was no easy feat.

“Given the way the building nestles into the mountain, precast concrete made the most sense for the lower parts of the building,” explains Stuart Coppedge, principal for RTA Architects. “The difficulties of construction, including highly variable weather, made prefabrication off site the smart thing to do, so precast concrete became the obvious choice.”

The center features a structural total precast concrete system, providing a truly distinctive design approach to this highly public structure. Choosing precast concrete also helped the owner achieve Living Building Challenge (LBC) certification for green buildings, and LEED Silver certification goals.

As the first LBC project for the precaster, the project required extensive research and discussion, as well as a stringent approval process to ensure Pikes Peak would remain environmentally safe. All construction work had to meet environmental standards with little impact to the natural surroundings, and the completed structures had to meet or exceed International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) guidelines.

“Designing a public facility that would be located above 14,000 ft presented many unique challenges,” Coppedge notes. Knowing the project would draw a lot of attention, the project team made sure the design process was transparent, hosting public meetings at each stage of design to gather feedback on different design concepts. “We received about 2000 written comments and paid attention to each one,” he says.

The team ultimately pursued the design that received the most public support.

Altitude sickness slowed progress

The final design features two precast concrete structures to replace the previous visitor center and high-altitude research laboratory on the top of the mountain.

The sizes of the prefabricated building components were limited given the steep, winding road to the project location. The trailers used to deliver pieces could be no longer than 40 ft and could only carry about half the usual load. Therefore, pieces could not exceed 10 ft in width, 45 ft in length, and 30,000 lb. Most trucks carried a single piece, with drivers averaging six pieces per day.

A 250-ton hydraulic crane was chosen for assembly based on engine efficiency and performance at altitudes more than 14,000 ft. Special lightning rods had to be placed in the ground and hooked to the crane to protect it and the erection crew, and crew members had to pass a physical examination before being allowed to work at that altitude.

Double tees were used for the floors and roof, creating a diaphragm for lateral resistance to hold extensive soil and wind loads. Insulated retaining walls (8 + 8.5 + 3) provide an overall R-value of 60 with an 8.5-in.-thick insulation wythe.

“The precast concrete walls had to retain 25 ft of rocks and earth and support a double-tee floor with 100 lb/ft² loading and a double-tee roof with 540 lb/ft² loading,” says Donald E. Palmer, (retired) precast concrete producer with Stresscon. “It was quite a challenge to design, build, and deliver.”

The roof level is sloped for drainage and reinforced for superimposed loading of 540 lb/ft². The roof was also designed to display several mountain boulders on the visitor walkways. Dowels were installed from the precast concrete and through the roof insulation to the upper concrete layer to prevent the boulders from sliding off the roof.

The second building is the U.S. Army’s High Altitude Research Laboratory (HARL), a two-level, precast concrete structure designed for use by the U.S. military for high-altitude exercise, endurance training, and testing. Structural precast concrete members for this facility had to be designed for extreme soil and wind loads, requiring four times the normal number of connections in the building’s wall system. The building’s south and west walls feature a buff-colored, acid-etched finish with a formliner design that mimics the stone on the main building.

Throughout construction, the teams faced many extreme challenges due to the high altitude and harsh weather conditions. “The many unknown and changing variables tested physical levels and fitness and created labor inefficiencies,” Coppedge says.

Altitude sickness and shortened shifts due to limited oxygen slowed progress, and extremely high winds and lightning shut down the jobsite on many occasions. Multiple trade interactions, and coordination of workers and equipment were also required to keep the mountain open to tourists throughout the erection process.

Despite the many challenges, the project met schedule demands, and the center is now open to the public. “Pikes Peak occupies a special place in the hearts and minds of many people, from locals to tourists,” Coppedge says. ”It’s gratifying to see people engage with the building and the whole new summit experience.”


2022 PCI Design AwardsSpecial Award: All-Precast Concrete Solution
2022 PCI Design AwardsSpecial Award: Sustainable Design
Project Team


Pikes Peak America's Mountain, Cascade, Colo.

PCI-Certified Precast Concrete Producers: 

Stresscon Corp., Colorado Springs, Colo.
EnCon Colorado, Denver, Colo.

Precast Concrete Specialty Engineer: 

Stresscon Corp., Colorado Springs, Colo.


RTA Architects, Colorado Springs, Colo.
GWWO Inc., Baltimore, Md.

Engineer of Record:

HCDA, Colorado Springs, Colo.

General Contractor:

GE Johnson Construction, Colorado Springs, Colo.

PCI-Certified Erector:

EnCon Field Services, Denver, Colo.

PCI Associate Supplier: 

JVI, Inc., Lincolnwood, Ill.

Project Cost:

$65 million

Project Size:

72,002 ft²

Key Project Attributes

  • At an altitude of 14,115 ft, the visitors center is the highest total precast concrete structure in the world.
  • Narrow winding roads required pieces be limited in size and weight for delivery.
  • The project met standards for LEED certification, Living Building Challenge certification, and the International Energy Conservation Code.

Project/Precast Scope

  • Build two all–precast concrete structures at the top of Pikes Peak.
  • The project included 462 precast concrete components.
  • Precast concrete erection occurred from July to November 2019.