One of the most exciting and unique attractions in North America, you only need to look at Columbia Icefield Skywalk to know that it is an impressive work of structural engineering. It is a thrilling and dramatic structure featuring a 30m curved glass walkway extending 35m from the cliff face and 280m above Jasper National Park’s Sunwapta Valley. By cantilevering the structure, Prime Consultant and Structural Engineer RJC Engineers (RJC), was able to give owner Brewster Travel Canada (Brewster) the experience they wanted while blending the Skywalk with the natural environment and giving the visitors the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of Canada’s Jasper National Park.
RJC wanted to maximize the sense of exposure and decided that the best way to approach this would be to construct a glass floored walk area. When considering the structural system to use, we developed an innovative eccentric low profile suspension cable system that is curved in plan. This system eliminated structural elements above and below, thus maximizing the impact of the glass walk. It also offered the advantage of not having to perform work down the face of the cliff. RJC undertook extensive dynamic analysis of the structure, designing our own tuned mass dampers to ensure guest comfort.
When contemplating what materials and construction methods would be most appropriate, RJC took into consideration the local site restrictions, the importance of blending the structure into the natural surroundings, long term durability and ongoing maintenance requirements, budgetary considerations, as well as the expressed desire for a rapid construction time. Structural steel was identified as the best option, provided durability and maintenance concerns could be addressed. Weathering steel was selected because it is a structural grade steel in which the chemistry has been altered so that, as it rusts, it forms a protective layer over itself. This layer prevents further corrosion of the steel. The result is a steel product that can be left exposed to the elements. It is very durable and has very limited maintenance requirements. The greatest advantage for this project is that the colour of the weathering steel will naturally blend in with the surrounding geology.