by Ron Bernthal
The US Olympic and Paralympic Museum (USOPM), which opened in Colorado Springs in 2020, is a tribute to the Olympic and Paralympic movements with Team USA athletes at the center of the museum experience. The 60,000 square-foot museum is located at the base of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado Springs, home of the United States Olympic Training Center.
Designed by the architectural firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), the USOPM will act as an anchor for the new City for Champions District, forming a new axis bridging downtown Colorado Springs to the America the Beautiful Park, located just a 15-minutes walk from the museum. City for Champions is a collection of four unique projects consisting of five distinct and extraordinary venues that will attract visitors to Colorado Springs, the surrounding region and the State of Colorado.
The new $91 million USOPM features 20,000 square-feet of galleries, a state-of-the-art theater, event space and a cafe. Inspired by the energy of the Team USA athletes and the organization’s inclusive values, the building’s exciting spiraling form allows visitors to descend the galleries in one continuous path. This main structual feature enables the museum to rank amongst the most accessible museums in the world, ensuring visitors with and without disabilities can smoothly share the same common experience.
A terraced hardscape plaza is at the heart of the museum complex, cradled by the museum building to the south and the cafe to the north. The plaza frames a postcard view of Pikes Peak and the Rocky Mountains beyond. With integrated amphitheater seating, the plaza is able to host outdoor events throughout the seasons, from the winter games through the summer games.
The museum’s façade consists of over 9,000 folded anodized diamond shaped aluminum panels, each unique in shape and size. The taut skin wraps four overlapping petal-like volumes that spiral around the internal structure. Each metallic panel is animated by the extraordinary light quality in Colorado Springs, producing gradients of color and shade that give the building a sense of motion and dynamism.
From the earliest stages of the design phase, the team at DS+R 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 they have been oriented, all visitors can move to the top floor by elevator. Ramps guide visitors down a gentle sloping downhill circulation path that enables easier movement.
Ramps have been widened to six feet to accommodate the side-by-side movement of two visitors including a wheelchair. 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.
DS+R designed 20,000 square-feet of gallery space as overlapping petals that wrap around the central atrium. Windows above eye-level bring in natural lighting at the seams, providing a soft daylight emanating from the central atrium space, terminating at vertical windows at the building’s perimeter. This lighting plan doubles as a directional signal, orienting visitors back to the atrium, and situating them along a trajectory that moves through the galleries, which feature immersive interactive exhibitions designed by Gallagher Associates.
To complement its US Olympic and Paralympic Museum DS+R has also conceived a pedestrian and bicycle bridge that connects a growing number of pedestrian bicycle paths that weave through the city. Inspired by the dynamic, gravity-defying quality of athletes in motion, the 250-foot curved, steel bridge appears to float above an active railyard to link the museum and the park. Prefabricated in Houston and welded section by section on site, the bridge was carefully hoisted up onto its support system in October, 2020. With a wide surface to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists, the bridge will open to the public in summer 2021.
The Southwest Downtown Pedestrian Bridge provides a vital urban link for Colorado Springs. By extending the east-west axis of Vermijo Avenue to the America the Beautiful Park, the new pedestrian bridge reconnects the urban fabric of downtown Colorado Spring. The bridge also stitches together a growing network of pedestrian bicycle paths including the Pikes Peak Greenway and Midland Trail running alongside Monument Creek.
DS+R Partner-in-Charge and Lead Designer Benjamin Gilmartin said that “The bridge is an exercise in fitness, both in terms of material and geometry. The hybrid steel structure system functions as an arch and a truss, elegantly preserving views from Downtown to the majestic mountain ranges of Pike’s Peak.”
The bridge’s generous width safely accommodates pedestrians and cyclists alike. At it’s widest point, an oculus at either side of the bridge frames the museum and downtown to the east, or a platform for trainspotting below and a distinct look out to the Rock Mountain to the west. In the evenings, lighting along the bridge will trace a single vector from one side of the tracks to the other, giving a sense of speed and motion while providing illumination for pedestrians and cyclists.