Glass-Based Glacier Skywalk Puts Visitors Over the Edge

The Glacier Skywalk in Alberta, Canada, sits 918 feet over the Sunwapta Valley and is cantilevered 100 feet out from the side of a cliff at Jasper National Park. (photo: Brewster, Inc.)

The Glacier Skywalk in Alberta, Canada, sits 918 feet over the Sunwapta Valley and is cantilevered 100 feet out from the side of a cliff at Jasper National Park. (photo: Scott Rowed/Brewster, Inc.)

The new Glacier Skywalk in western Alberta, Canada was constructed with a sharp focus on giving its visitors a bird’s eye view. Thanks to a plethora of glass in the design, its intentions came to fruition.

The skywalk—a glass-floored, observation platform made of structural steel, glass and wood—sits 918 feet over the Sunwapta Valley and is cantilevered 100 feet out from the side of a cliff at Jasper National Park. It opened to the public last month.

“The glass allows the visitor the opportunity to really reach out and experience the full grandeur of the valley below. Views are unobstructed in all directions, particularly straight down,” says John Kooymans, principal at Read Jones Christoffersen (RJC) Ltd., a Canadian engineering and consulting firm. “The supporting structure is very unique and minimalistic, allowing for the visitor to feel like they are floating above the valley.”

Josef Gartner of the Permasteelisa Group was the glazing contractor for the project, while RJC’s Simon Brown led the project out of the company’s Calgary office. RJC’s glass design team in Toronto assisted with the glass elements for the cantilevered bridge, and Sturgess Architecture also worked on the project.

The floor of the walkway is made up of three layers of 10-millimeter, heat-strengthened glass with an ionoplastic interlayer between each lite, and a 6-millimeter fully-tempered sacrificial lite placed on top for protection, according to Kooymans. The glass guards consist of two layers of 10-millimeter heat-strengthened glass, also with an ionoplastic interlayer.

“The laminated heat-strengthened floor assembly with an ionoplastic interlayer was chosen for its robustness in a post-breakage state—something that must be analyzed for safety,” says Kooymans. “The sacrificial lite on top of the structural glass lamination was used to protect the structural glass from accidental impact, but also so that it could be replaced on an annual basis due to scuff marks without replacing the entire laminated assembly. The owners wanted to maintain clarity for optimal views, so keeping the glass free of scuff marks was important over the life of the project.”

Kooymans said one of the bigger challenges in the project was designing the glass floor and railings “to withstand a great range in temperature swings.

“It also had to be designed to ‘ride’ with the deflections of the cantilevered bridge structure, which induced some warping at the connecting ends of the bridge. The balustrade was segmented with no connectivity from one to the next by use of a top rail or hand rail, which allowed the rail to move with the bridge deflections in a less stressful state. In doing this, the rail had to be laminated and stiff enough to withstand the code loads should one of the two lites break.”

The project was not met without reluctance and opposition from environmentalists. However, according to Brewster Travel Canada, the structure “is built into native bedrock, with weathering steel, glass and wood. These materials mirror, rather than distract from, the natural environment and are free of paint and other toxins. Keenly aware of and sympathetic to its surroundings, the Glacier Skywalk is dedicated to a near-zero footprint.”

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