Overview       Pei & his Buildings      Walter Orr Roberts      Collaboration      Influences      Boulder's Vote     The NCAR Mesa      Signifigance

Ground Breaking Design

In 1959, a young I. M. Pei was not the obvious choice for the NCAR headquarters commission. Pei was becoming known for his innovative work in glass and concrete and as a designer of large, urban projects. His reputation as a man who listened to his clients, showed great imagination in his designs, and had experience with tight budgetary constraints attracted Walt Roberts, NCAR’s first director.

Surprisingly, the selection team saw Pei’s inexperience as an advantage and Pei was eager to tackle the creative demands of the natural mesa site and what he called a “once-in-a lifetime opportunity."

This Boulder landmark sits atop a 600-foot mesa above the city, against the dramatic Flatirons formation at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Set into a corner of the mesa top, the building is only glimpsed from a mile-long curved approach carefully positioned up the mesa to preserve the natural terrain.


  NCAR from the south The NCAR Mesa Lab from the south, which leads to the Walter Orr Roberts Weather Trail and Boulder's Mesa Trail. © 2009 UCAR



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NCAR Construction
A scene from the early 1960s during NCAR's construction.

NCAR TowerNCAR arch

Architectural details of the NCAR Mesa Lab in Boulder, CO.

NCAR window design
Many elements within the Mesa Lab design are suspended above the ground to give the illusion of lightness.