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The Center for Character and Leadership Development

SOM | Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Education  /  Completed
SOM | Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
The Center for Character & Leadership Development (CCLD) represents an important and symbolic addition to the U.S. Air Force Academy’s campus, which was designed by the submitting firm in 1954, and was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 2004. As the first significant building constructed in the Cadet Area since the 1990s, the CCLD creates a new icon for the campus, and serves as an architectural counterpoint to the Academy’s Cadet Chapel.

The planning process for the CCLD began with a competition. After winning the initial round, the firm developed a deeper mission with more precise objectives. The needs for the building, both aesthetically and programmatically, were based on conversations and working sessions with Academy leadership, professors, staff, and cadets. The architect for the project attended seminars and “Honor Lessons” in order to experience firsthand the type of programs that would be housed in the new facility and enhance understanding of the Air Force’s guiding principles.

The 46,000-square-foot education center is located at a critical meeting point between the campus’ cadet and public areas. The building serves as a nexus, with spaces dedicated to cadets, professors, distinguished visitors and the public. It contains the Forum, a flexible gathering space for academic and social interaction; a series of collaboration, conference, and seminar rooms; offices; library; and the Honor Board Room, where inquiries related to the Cadet Honor Code take place.

The CCLD’s dramatic 105-foot skylight aligns precisely with the North Star to create a meaningful architectural interpretation of the Academy’s aspirations and guiding values. With its complete integration of architecture and structural engineering, dynamic nature of its form, and machine-like precision, the skylight is fluid yet disciplined. The ample natural light provided by the skylight structure minimizes the use of artificial lighting—one of many factors contributing to the building’s LEED Gold® certification. In warmer months, the skylight works as a chimney, expelling hot air as it rises away from inhabitants. In total, the various energy savings that the skylight promotes equals a 37% reduction from the baseline of a compliant ASHRAE building.

At the center of the building, the Forum’s terraced levels accommodates gatherings at a variety of scales and levels of formality. Glass-walled collaboration rooms surround the Forum, offering meeting spaces that emphasize the quality of transparency that is central to the building’s design. Symbolically placed at the building’s heart, the Honor Board Room features a conference table situated beneath a glass aperture that opens onto the larger skylight above. A cadet seated at the table will be precisely aligned with the North Star.


 Colorado Springs, CO
 United States
 4320 mq
 Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP
 Anthony Vacchione, Roger Duffy, Frank Mahan, Charles Besjak


The Center for Character and Leadership Development utilizes mechanical systems that are built directly into the building’s design, rather than inserted as auxiliary systems. Due to this integrated approach, the line between structural and mechanical systems is quite fluid. From displacement ventilation to radiant heating systems, the facility employs a variety of cohesive mechanical systems to ensure user delight, energy efficiency, and cost-effectiveness.

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