A Walk on the Wild Side: Glacier Discovery Walk by Sturgess Architecture

I like excitement, adventure, and general adrenaline pumping activities,….to a reasonable extent at least, so, if you share my appreciation for the daring to a larger degree, well then,…  this may interest you.

This is the Glacier Discovery Walk. I believe the above image puts things in perspective, but nonetheless, I’ll proceed. Located along the edge of the Columbian Icefields in Canada’s Jasper National Park, this viewing platform has been described as “an experience” that “empowers guests to immerse themselves in the untouched natural environment”. The platform is designed to extend the experience of trekking through the icefields and further enhance the views and vistas. It is not for the faint of heart. Lets take a walk:

The ‘journey’ begins at the Receiving area, where you’re dropped off by a tour bus under a large protective canopy that is incorporated to the existing stone wall. You then proceed to the Free Viewing Area, where you’re given a first glimpse of what to expect on this journey. Moving forward, you start down the “Discovery Trail” which is cut into the native bedrock of the Sunwapta Valley, widening and thinning out at intervals called “Interpretive stations” which allow you, take a moment to learn about the history of the area without stopping the flow. These stations have been meticulously planned to alternately hide and expose the climax of your ‘journey’ as you move along the downward sloping trail, building a gradual sense of discovery. The trail begins to slope upward and as you ascend, the “Discovery Vista” becomes increasingly visible and that sensation of both fear and excitement starts to set in. You arrive at the Vista, palms sweaty, unsure of what to expect, because the platform seems like just another boulder from where you’re standing, but, as you step out, you peer down at your feet to see the Valley below, right through the glass walkway. You’ve made it, adrenaline and all, as you stand 30 m away from solid ground and hundreds of meters in the air on this transparent walkway, taking in what may be one of the most amazing experiences known to man.


As stated before, the intent of the Discovery Walk is not to be a destination, but a “journey”. This 450m “journey” comprises the Receiving Area, Discovery Trail and Discovery Vista, all of which were crafted not to be alienated from their natural surroundings, but, rather blend in as part of the geography. Basically, the complex physical landscape of the site is the inspiration for the project’s design and material choice as well as its sustainable approach to building. Weathering, Corten Steel, was selected for this reason as it has the ability to change in appearance thanks to its ‘weathering’ nature. A perfect fit, for the changing mountain face that is sits on. Also it is virtually maintenance and VOC-free.

The Discovery Vista also makes use of weathering steel along and at the base of its curved path. It is suspended about 280 meters above the ground with a tempered, heat strengthened glass walkway. Its suspended 30m cantilever is made possible using anchored girders, combined with a concealed cable suspension system to support the curved path with a balance of compression and tension. All of which remain virtually out of sight allowing the unobstructed views of the surrounding Vista.

Dynamic Angular forms, natural colours, rough textures, glacial glazing, all echo a ‘Rugged Architecture’ theme that is tailor made for this grand experience. Masterfully designed, professionally planned and ingeniously crafted, the Glacier Discovery Walk, is probably one of the most amazingly terrifying, yet exhilarating things to put on a very long Bucket list. A big thumbs up to Sturgess Architecture.

a as architecture

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