The 60,000 sf United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum (USOPM) in Colorado Springs features 20,000 sf of galleries, a state-of-the-art theater, event space and café. Inspired by the energy and grace of Team USA athletes and the organization’s inclusive values, the building’s dynamic spiraling form allows visitors to descend the galleries in one common path. This main organization structure ensures that from entrance to exit, all visitors with or without disabilities can tour the facility together in a shared experience. From the earliest stages of design, the team consulted Team USA athletes, including Paralympic athletes and persons with disabilities, to ensure the most authentic and inclusive experience. Today, the USOPM is considered one of the most accessible museums in the world, and most recently received the 2020 Grand Award from the International Association for Universal Design, who noted the museum “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.”
When visiting the Museum, each guest is given a keepsake Visitor Credential that is powered by RFID technology and automatically generates content specific to their accessibility needs and Olympic and Paralympic interests. Accessibility services are individually selected during guest registration and tailored throughout each exhibit, including audio-described video, text-to-speech screen readers, high contrast and larger font sizes. After visitors have been oriented, they ascend to the top floor by elevator. Ramps guide visitors down a gentle-grade downhill circulation path that enables easier movement. These ramps have been widened to 6 feet to not only be wheelchair accessible, but to also accommodate the side-by-side movement and shared experience of two visitors. 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 wheelchair movement, and loose seating in the café optimize the shared experience.
The gallery spaces are designed as overlapping petals that wrap around the central atrium. Clerestory lighting at the seams between these petals provides a soft daylight emanating from the central atrium space, terminating at vertical windows at the building’s perimeter. This lighting strategy doubles as wayfinding, orienting visitors back to the atrium and situating them along a trajectory that moves through the galleries, which feature immersive interactive exhibitions.
Within the exhibitions designed by Gallagher and Associates, all screen media has been designed with inclusivity at its heart. For example, if guests select audio descriptions as a preference during registration, these descriptions are triggered automatically by a tactile floor strip and provide an introduction upon entering each gallery. Touchscreen interactives feature tactile keypads designed to assist with screen navigation. Open captions and American Sign Language play out across all video content and interactive media throughout the Museum. Additional accessibility services are available upon request and for complimentary use, including assistive listening devices, transport chairs, accessible styluses for touchscreens, weighted lap pads and sensory bags containing special badges, fidget tools, and noise canceling headphones. Low-sensory versions of some exhibit experiences and films are also available upon request.
A terraced hardscape plaza is at the heart of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum complex, cradled by the museum building to the south and the café 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 building’s façade consists of nearly 9,000 folded anodized diamond shaped aluminum panels, each unique in shape and size. The taut skin wraps the 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 another sense of motion and dynamism.
The project is targeting a LEED Gold sustainability rating, implementing strategies that include brown field redevelopment, as the site is located on a rail yard dating back to the late 1800s; exemplary performance credit for open space, defined by open terraces, extensive landscaped areas and green roof; and enhanced commissioning to ensure that all building systems are operating at maximum efficiency.
The same team that designed the museum also designed the neighboring Southwest Downtown Pedestrian Bridge, a 250-foot curved steel structure that floats above an active railyard to connect downtown Colorado Springs and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum to America the Beautiful Park. The bridge’s generous width safely accommodates pedestrians and cyclists alike, stitching together a growing network of pedestrian bicycle paths. The USOPM and the Southwest Downtown Pedestrian Bridge have catalyzed remarkable urban transformation in Southwest Colorado Springs, evidenced by an increase in tourism and investment.
Founded in 1981, Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) is a design studio whose practice spans the fields of architecture, urban design, installation art, multi-media performance, digital media, and print. With a focus on cultural and civic projects, DS+R’s work addresses the changing role of institutions and the future of cities. The studio is based in New York and is comprised of over 100 architects, designers, artists and researchers, led by four partners—Elizabeth Diller, Ricardo Scofidio, Charles Renfro and Benjamin Gilmartin.