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28-acre mesa within a 530-acre Rocky Mountain site

Index to Projects in Colorado

Boulder, Colorado

Gross Floor Area
243,000 s/f (including 30,000 s/f terraces and outdoor spaces) + surface parking

National Science Foundation,
University Corporation for Atmospheric Research,
Boulder, Colorado

Time Frame
Planning: 2/61–
Construction: 6/64–
Completion: 2/67

National Center for Atmospheric Research

Boulder, Colorado
Completed 1967


Lead Designer: I. M. Pei


Laboratories and offices for atmospheric research

Click on image to enlarge

The National Center for Atmospheric Research was established in 1960 on the threshold of a new age of scientific exploration. More than simply provide optimum facilities for theoretical and practical scientists, the building was undertaken to create a national symbol of atmospheric research, confirming its legitimacy as an exact science.

NCAR responds to a complex technical and philosophical program and also to an extraordinary Rocky Mountain site. Its mass is fragmented into two tower clusters of laboratories/offices with upper-level "crow's nests" that permit quiet contemplation amid spectacular mountain views. The clusters are linked by two basement levels and a core of communal facilities that affords research areas greater isolation. Interaction among scientists is maximized by chance meetings in alcoved corridors that zigzag to provide multiple circulation routes through the complex.

The vastness of the Rocky Mountains presented the greatest design challenge. Inspired by Indian cliffdwellings in nearby Mesa Verde, NCAR comes to terms with nature through elemental forms, the absence of identifiable human scale and the use of indigenous materials. The innovative architectural concrete walls were colored by local aggregates and bush-hammered to better merge with the mountain setting. Set into a corner of the site, the building is only glimpsed from a mile-long curved approach carefully threaded up the mesa to preserve the natural terrain.


Major Components

214,500 s/f building (including 193,140 s/f original building with 69,000 s/f office / laboratory space on 7 levels + roof labs; 10,000 s/f library / support; 6,000 s/f exhibition lobby; 5,000 s/f additional major lobbies (3); 6,000 s/f computer room; 1,700 s/f commons / conference room; 8,000 s/f dining; 5,000 s/f storage) + 20,000 s/f laboratory / computer room addition; 1,300 s/f outdoor dining terrace; mile-long approach road; surface parking for 425 cars




American Institute of Architects,
Colorado Chapter: 25 Year Award



Industrial Research: Laboratory of the Year


I. M. Pei & Associates services

Master Planning; Complete Architectural Services; Interior Design of public spaces



Weiskopf & Pickworth, New York, NY


Mechanical / Electrical

Jaros Baum & Bolles, New York, NY



Office of Dan Kiley, Charlotte, VT



Photo credits

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