By Christine Menapace
The Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo start today! And while COVID-19 has made international travel difficult, we can still get a taste of Olympic excitement right within our own borders at the newly constructed United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum (USOPM) in Colorado Springs, CO.
Officially opened to the public last July, the 60,000-square foot building, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, features 20,000 square feet of galleries, a state-of-the-art theater, event space, and café. The museum is a one-of-a-kind tribute to the Olympic and Paralympic movements, with Team USA athletes at the center of the story. Twelve galleries with exhibitions designed by Gallagher Associates follow a story arc that takes guests through Team USA athlete’s journey.
“This Museum has been nearly 10 years in the making, and we are excited that these incredible stories will come to life in Olympic City USA,” said USOPM CEO, Christopher Liedel. Team USA members were involved and consulted throughout the project to aid in creating an authentic experience and inclusive design.
The result is one already garnering awards not only for the Museum’s content (it was named a Best New Attraction of 2020 by USA Today) but also for its accessible building design. The Museum was presented the 2020 Grand Award by the International Association for Universal Design, the top award presented by IAUD. IAUD judges called it “a great example of museum — and especially exhibit — design for all, which embodies so completely the principles of inclusive design by treating all visitors as equal while providing for individual needs in a seamless and elegant whole…. A tour de force by multiple design partners.”
“Accessibility and inclusivity has always been at the forefront of the Museum’s planning,” commented Liedel. “This is a museum for everyone — of all abilities — and we are truly honored to have received such a prestigious award.”
From the earliest stages of design, the team consulted a committee of Paralympic athletes and persons with disabilities to ensure that, from entrance to exit, all visitors with or without disabilities could tour the USOPM facility together and share a common path. After visitors have been oriented, they all ascend to the top floor by elevator. They then descend down a gentle-grade downhill ramp in a spiral form that enables easier movement and viewing of the galleries in one continuous path. Ramps have been widened to six feet to accommodate the side-by-side movement of two visitors including a wheelchair. Media includes audio descriptions, open captioning, and American Sign Language across all video content.
Beyond ensuring all code and ADA requirements were rigorously met, material details including: glass guardrails in the atrium for low-height visibility; cane guards integrated into benches; smooth floors for easier wheel chair movement; and loose seating in the café optimize the shared experience. Additionally, the theater includes two rows of removable seats to accommodate a max of 26 wheelchairs, enabling the full Paralympic hockey team to sit together if desired.
While the building may be best-in-class for accessibility, the design, particularly the façade, is also visually impactful. “Every aspect of our design strategy has been motivated by the goal of expressing the extraordinary athleticism and progressive values of Team USA,” said Benjamin Gilmartin, architect and Partner at Diller Scofidio + Renfro. “A taut aluminum façade flexes and twists over the building’s dynamic pinwheel form, drawing inspiration from the energy and grace of Olympians and Paralympians.”
Over 9,000 folded anondized diamond shaped aluminum panels, each unique in shape and size with lengths ranging from 2’8” to 4’8”, adorn the façade and are lifted 1” at one corner to create a scale-like surface that tracks light. This skin wraps four overlapping petal-like volumes that spiral around the internal structure. Since each metallic panel is highlighted by the extraordinary light quality in Colorado Springs, the building produces gradients of color and shade that add to the sense of motion and dynamism of the exterior.
Inside, a 40’ tall lobby atrium, overlooked by four varying height balconies and illuminated by a skylight, welcomes visitors. In the gallery space, clerestory lighting at the seams of the exterior “petals” provide a soft daylight emanating from the atrium and terminating at vertical windows at the building’s perimeter. This lighting strategy doubles as wayfinding. For staff, an 800 square foot multi-functional board room features a 26’ floor-to-ceiling window framing a view of the Rocky Mountains, while an adjacent 470 square foot terrace provides outdoor meeting space.
The building is also targeting LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, with strategies that include: brownfield redevelopment (the site is located on a late 1800s rail yard); exemplary performance credit for open space (with terraces, extensive landscaped areas, and green roof); and enhanced commissioning to ensure all building systems are operating at maximum efficiency.
“The Museum is more than a sports museum. It is a museum of hopes and dreams,” commented Liedel. “And we think the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum will provide athletes and fans alike with a space to celebrate friendship, determination and all the best values Team USA athletes embody.”
A seasoned writer, Menapace is the managing editor Turf magazine, sister publication of Facility Executive. Check out her story on “Olympic Cities That Created Landscaping Legacies” at TurfMagazine.com.