by Anmol AhujaFeb 13, 2021
Ten years in the making, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Museum, dubbed the USOPM and only the first of its kind tribute to the Olympic and Paralympic movements, is finally opened to the public. Seeking to tell its story with the Team USA athletes at the centre of its experience, along with the values of friendship, determination, grace and energy they embody in sports, the USOP Museum is pitched by its designers at Diller Scofidio + Renfro to be one of the most accessible and interactive museums in the world.
The 60,000 sq. ft. project features a total of 12 galleries encompassing a massive 20,000 sq. ft. of the total space over various levels, along with a state of the art theatre, event spaces and a café. The spatial flow of the galleries, whose exhibitions have been designed by Gallagher Associates, follow a narrative arc that takes visitors through the inspiring journey of the Team United States athletes through audio-visual means and installations, allowing them to experience the exhibition space in an immersive manner. The authenticity of the athletes’ journey being reflected in the exhibits has been ensured through regular consultation between the architects, exhibition designers and the participating athletes.
Sheathed by its parametrised façade, the volume of the museum houses the exhibition spaces in an inward looking manner. The exhibition spaces have been designed as overlapping petals that further wrap around the central atrium in a spiral, pinwheel like formation, allowing untethered access to all the galleries on all the levels of the museum through a series of ramps. The spiral itself is a conceptual interpretation of athletic movements, and manifests itself architecturally through the various levels of galleries jutting out as balcony projections, overlooking the 40 feet high atrium as a visual anchor. The dynamism in external form is complemented by another layer of motion and animation in the spaces within through an exuberant play of light. At the seams of each of these petal shaped gallery spaces, clerestory lighting continues along the surface to terminate in vertical windows at the building’s edge, coupled with a softer light emanating from the skylight on top of the atrium. This not only harnesses the extraordinary light quality in Colorado Springs, but also aligns and orients visitors along a trajectory through the galleries to the top floor, and back to the atrium, serving as a rather ingenious wayfinder.
As visitors to the museum step into the atrium, they are greeted by a multilevel digital display. Following a short orientation, they are directed to ascend to the top floor by elevator, from where they can be guided downward by gently sloping ramps through the galleries. The ramps have been kept adequately wide to enable two visitors, including a wheelchair, to comfortably pass through. In further testament to the building’s commitment to accessibility, 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 enhance the shared experience for every visitor regardless of disability.
While the exhibit galleries are situated across all three levels, the first level additionally consists of a 2000 sq. ft. theatre that can host a 130 person audience. Here too, accessibility and inclusivity is paramount, as the layout consists of two entirely removable rows to accommodate a maximum of 26 wheelchairs to showcase AV presentations and sport events. The second level accommodates a vast 1300 sq. ft. event space, extendable by another 500 sq. ft. to an adjoining terrace, facilitating all round panoramic views from the Colorado Springs to the Rocky Mountains. Also on the second level are a café with the ability to host a full service restaurant or even educational programs, extendable as well to an outdoor landscaped terrace. The third level is reserved for displays as well as administrative functions, housing a multifunctional board room, also connected to a panoramic view terrace.
Apart from the museum building itself, the entire complex has been holistically developed to create a cohesive experience. The hardscaped plaza outside, apart from hosting incredible views, also has an amphitheatre like stepped seating incorporated for hosting outdoor events, including display of games in both the summer and winter game seasons. Its connection to its surroundings is further anchored to the urban place by the Southwest Downtown Pedestrian Bridge that seeks to unite America the Beautiful Park with downtown Colorado Springs by stretching the east-west axis of Vermijo Avenue, covering the railroads beneath it. The structure too has been designed by the same team at Diller Scofidio + Renfro as the museum, and is seen as an exercise in fitness akin to the museum itself. Together, the scope of these two interventions is to attempt to revive the urban fabric of the downtown Colorado Springs area.
Perhaps the most inventive part of the USOP Museum’s design shows itself in its structural system and the façade it wields as a second skin over the steel framework. While the building’s ‘structural’ and ‘sculptural’ skin appear virtually independent of each other in the orthogonal plane, the horizontal transitions between them have in fact been carefully coordinated to determine appropriate girt and support locations, leaving required room for thermal, occupancy and lateral movements within permitted limits, as a result of which, the system appears to be joint free. Its highly irregular superstructure, unconfined by the orthogonal, consists of a series of custom connections between each of the steel members of the massive frame that shapes the building, between the steel and the RCC lateral cores and exposed structural floor slabs, and to the massive 60 ton steel truss supported by tilted columns and struts. At the centre of it sits the steel framed atrium roof with clerestory glazing, appearing as if suspended from the top.
The sheath that further supports its cladding is supported over this impressive structural assembly, made in cold rolled metal and is bonded to the primary structure through axial connections. Each of the 9,000 diamond shaped panels on the façade, made in anodised aluminium, 0.63 inches thick, and ranging between 2.8 inches to 4.8 inches in length, are then conjoined with the sheath framing using Z-girts. The dynamic impression of the façade is also a result of each of the individual panels lifted a single degree along the compass from the corner to form a reptilian, scale like appearance that plays off of the sunlight the surface receives. This unconventional yet wildly inventive set of details, each worked out with individual attention, are what is so definitive of parametric and computer aided designing in this day and age: even more so than these buildings’ disdain of the right angle, along with continuing a newfound sense of aesthetic that marries the structural and architectural.
Name: United States Olympic and Paralympic Museum
Location: 200 S Sierra Madre St. Southwest Downtown Colorado Springs, Colorado, US
Area: 60000 sq. ft. (built up)
Design Architect: Diller Scofidio + Renfro
Executive Architect: Anderson Mason Dale Architects
Total Project Cost: $91 Million USD
Exhibition Designers: Gallagher Associates
Structural Engineers: KL&A in collaboration with Arup
MEP Engineers: The Ballard Group
Lighting: Tillotson Design Associates
Landscape: NES Inc. in collaboration with Hargreaves Jones
Façade Fabrication: MG McGrath