Pull Over! There’s a Glass TeePee Ahead

Newly constructed roadside tourist attractions may seem a thing of the past—think great balls of string and those famous mystery spots–but owners of the Cherokee Travel Mart in Geary, Ok., were nostalgic to bring that fun, family atmosphere into their location, which can be found at exit 108 along I-40. Wright Group Architects Planners PLLC in Carrolton, Texas, was charged with the task of creating an eye-catching structure for the stop, and it was glass that helped make it all possible.

“Most of us still remember the themed travel stops of years past,” says Terrance J. Wright, AIA, NCARB, of Wright Group Architects Planners PLLC, speaking of those stops where travelers find such amenities as camping and picnic sites, restaurants and convenience stores all in one location. “This location has all of that.”

One feature of the travel mart is a 50-year old convenient store in need of a new look. Wright says the client wanted to demolish the existing convenience store and replace it with a new structure.

“The owners wanted the new store to have a wow factor. There were existing models of teepee structures on site, so we played with that idea and came up with a nearly 50-foot high, ten-sided glass teepee tied into the building. This proved to be the look they were going for.”

Working with B&B Glass in Dallas as the contract glazier, Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope was brought on as the fabricator. The glass system for the teepee, Wright says, was $260,000.

“The fabricators and installers really worked with us to educate us as the architects on the feasibility of the design,” says Wright.

The teepee, with its cap, stands 48 feet tall; the top of the glass is 35 feet 10 inches above the finished floor. It is constructed of laminated insulating glass panels in an aluminum sloped-glazing frame system. Various glass tints, as well as translucent interlayers, were used to create the teepee’s patterns.

Wright says the environmental performance of the glass was a major consideration to control the comfort levels of the interior, which is a dining space.

“It helped reduce the light/heat gain and block UV light,” he says.

He admits, though, that prior to deciding on glass they did consider other materials, such as stucco.

“One of the main reasons we chose to go with glass for the teepee is the very visible transparent glow at night and color reflectance during the day,” says Wright. “It presents an interesting structure during the day; then it lights up at night and glows like a lantern.”

He continues, “Glass allowed us the most design flexibility compared to other products we investigated. We could create transparency, semi-transparency and play with the light and color.”

Creating such a structure, however, was not without challenges. For example, Wright says the glass framing is supported by steel tubes forming the basic teepee shape. Accuracy of placement was crucial to maintain tolerances.

“There are a lot of tricky connections,” he says.

To help ensure accuracy a steel rod marker was placed in the floor slab as the center point.

“It provided a fixed point for coordination of all trades,” says Wright. “This installation was going to require a little more care than your average storefront to guarantee a tight fit.”

In creating the teepee, Wright says it was helpful that they had a client that allowed them to push the limits.

“The design was developed and presented in a 3D CAD system. We worked closely with the owner to refine the design and assure this would be a fun place for travelers to stop,” Wright says. “People began taking touristy photos in front of the teepee even before it was complete. When customers come inside the store, the first thing they do is go into the teepee and look up. It’s a fun new atmosphere for a 50-year-old travel mart wanting to be a novelty stop along the route.”

Wright adds, “You don’t see this every day. It blends into the site and creates a sense of play. People are already talking about it in the area,” he says, “We are grateful to a client who was willing to go that extra mile and allow us to create a structure that is interesting, unique and fun.”