Alta Community Center Feasibility Study

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Alta Community Center Feasibility Study

For many years, developing a large, multi-purpose, public facility has been a goal for the Alta Community—a small and physically remote, environmentally volatile, yet beloved mountain community in Utah. Our feasibility study not only explores innovative, responsive, and highly sustainable solutions to the challenges of their site, but it also actively engages the Alta community in the process to determine the ambition for the new facility as well as a dynamic program that will serve its diverse community.

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Before developing any design schemes, it was imperative to craft an engagement process that allowed the design team opportunities to listen, learn, and respond to the Alta community. This process familiarized the design team with the site, its context, its unique challenges and opportunities, and allowed them to better understand the people who would be using the center.

Through a series of informal interviews and workshops, the design team developed a vision statement, a spatial program, and a design. Due to the travel restrictions in place during the summer of 2020, this process was conducted in an entirely virtual format, with online meeting platforms, virtual whiteboards, websites, and social media platforms. Learn more about the engagement process here.

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Located in the heart of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon, Alta is very popular recreational destination. The site of the community center is prominently located near the center of town along a main vehicular route. The site is located within a robust hiking and backcountry ski network and will serve as a local trailhead and information center.

The site of the future Community Center is a beautiful and fragile one. The town has a prominent history of avalanches, which impact recreation opportunities and the ingress and egress from the community. The building site, like many others in the town, is located within an avalanche path. As such, incorporating detailed avalanche hazard analysis, the proposed designs carefully and innovatively respond to potential threat.

The feasibility study explores several conceptual options to address the program, the unique challenges posed by the site and its avalanche hazard, cost, constructability, sustainability, and carbon footprint. The protection of the natural landscape—including its watershed, wetlands, forests, and wildlife habitat areas—was also an imperative for the community center, both in its sustainable architecture and by encouraging environmental stewardship through education.

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The proposed design creates a singular architectural expression that is lifted 35’ above grade, out of the path of the predicted avalanche, and creates a covered outdoor multi-use plaza at the building’s entry. Sitting atop of four resilient piers, the community center’s volume can be simply constructed out of lightweight and sustainable construction materials. The building’s organic form contours the mountainside, reflecting the landscape topography and creates dynamic views up and down the Canyon.

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By lifting the community center out of the mountainside, all the interior spaces are given access to daylight and views of the surrounding landscape, unlike the typical approach for buildings in the region which are more commonly built-into the hillsides and heavily reinforced. The deep roof overhang and continuous porch along the center’s southern façade provides enjoyable outdoor spaces at the upper level of the center during shoulder seasons and reduces solar heat gain during summer months.

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The Center will include programs that reinforce connections within the community and provide new alternatives for community activities and education such as a shared public lobby, lounge and café, a multi-purpose event space, a wellness / fitness room, classrooms for community educational programs, a teaching kitchen, a new classroom space for the town’s one-room school, a small library and reading room, exhibition space for local artists, a trailhead to support spring and summer hikers and winter back-country skiers, and offices to house the town’s most active non-for-profit agencies.


Alta, UT
20,000 GSF
Lobby, Lounge, Multi-Purpose Space, Wellness/Fitness Space, Education Space, Teaching Kitchen, One Room School Classroom, Library Reading Room, Changing Gallery / Exhibition Space, Trailhead Support, Non-for Profit Support Offices


Ennead Design Team
Richard Olcott, Don Weinreich, Jarrett Pelletier, Keristen Edwards, Anders Evenson, Elodie Graham, Stefan Knust, Masha Konopleva, Fangzhou Liu, Amy Mielke, Malachi Pursley, Daniel Silverman
Structural Engineering
Atelier Ten
Town of Alta Avalanche Consultant
Contour Group
Construction Management
Big-D Construction Corp.