Tuesday 4 August 2020

Architecture: New United States & Olympic Paralympic Museum

The first ever US Olympic and Paralympic museum is completed in Colorado Springs, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. 
This year, the Tokyo games were scuppered by Covid-19, but a spectacular new museum in Colorado has just opened to celebrate the Olympics. The United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum was designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. It was originally planned to open with the games in Japan. The building is America's first Olympic museum and has a dynamic design that reflects athletic endeavor, writes Jeanne-Marie Cilento. Photographs by Jason O'Rear 

The façade is made up of 9,000 anodised aluminum,
diamond-shaped panels, each unique in shape,
creating a sense of motion and dynamism.
THE glistening, sculptural form of the new United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum (USOPM) sits below the craggy Rocky Mountains like a silvery, rectilinear rose.

Folded, anondised aluminium panels overlap like petals, wrapping around the building in a spiral and reflecting the limpid light that bathes this corner of Colorado.

Designed by architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), the museum has just been completed after a long gestation, in the town of Colorado Springs, nestled under Pikes Peak. American athletes John Naber and Peggy Fleming were present at a ceremonial launch along with Museum CEO Christopher Liedel, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, and DS+R partner Benjamin Gilmartin, who oversaw the project.

This is the latest museum project designed by the high profile, New York-based architectural firm. Gilmartin lead the team along with partners Elizabeth Diller, Ricardo Scofidio and Charles Renfro. The architects have become known in the USA not only for the High Line in New York but for their museum designs that include the Broad Museum in Los Angeles, the extension and renovation of New York's Museum of Modern Art, Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art and the Art History building at Stanford University, among others.

The glistening, sculptural form of the new museum nestles below the craggy Rocky Mountains like a silvery, rectilinear rose

The striking museum sits beneath the spectacular
backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. It will be at 
the heart of an urban redevelopment, connecting 
back to the city via a new bridge.
Colorado Springs was chosen as the setting for the museum as it is already the home of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and Training Center.

The museum is designed to celebrate American athletes and they were central to the planning of the building and its exhibitions. Accessibility formed a key element of the project, which is the only museum in the US dedicated to the legacy of the country's Olympic and Paralympic sportspeople.

"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. "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.

"Inside, descending galleries are organized along a continuous spiral, enabling visitors of all abilities to have a shared, common experience along a universal pathway. After leading the museum’s design for the past six years, I’m so moved by the collective, herculean effort that allowed us to now share these stories of perseverance with the public."

"A taut aluminum façade twists over the building’s dynamic pinwheel form, drawing inspiration from the energy and grace of Olympians and Paralympians"

Folded, metallic panels overlap like petals, wrapping 
around the building in a spiral and reflecting the
limpid light that bathes this corner of Colorado.
The aim of the architects was to make the museum one of the most accessible in the world, so visitors with and without disabilities can move through the building with equal ease. Paralympic athletes and people with disabilities were consulted to make sure that from entering to leaving the building, everyone can visit and enjoy the museum together, regardless of ability.

Walking inside the museum atrium, you take an elevator to reach the third floor and then descend following the exhibits via a gently-sloping ramp that guides visitors down a circulation path through the galleries. The spiraling ramp is like New York's Guggenheim museum's curvilinear walkway that goes from top to bottom. The ramps here are particularly broad and can accommodate two visitors including a wheelchair. Glass balustrades in the atrium allow for low-height visibility, cane guards have been integrated into benches and there are smooth floors for easier wheel chair movement, plus flexible seating at the café.

The interior design of the museum tells the story of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in eleven permanent galleries with one that will change with new exhibitions. Visitors learn the history of the games and then explore the ways athletes train and prepare. The museum has the latest technology and visitors can try interactive sports and even experience being part of olympic awards ceremonies. There are more than 260 artifacts, from sprinter Michael Johnson’s golden shoes and Olympic torches to gymnast Shannon Miller’s scrunchie and the scoreboard from the Lake Placid Olympic Fieldhouse.

The spiraling ramp is like New York's Guggenheim museum's curvilinear path, leading from the top to the bottom.

"Every aspect of our design strategy has been
motivated by the goal of expressing the extraordinary
athleticism of Team USA," said Benjamin Gilmartin. 
The American athletes that were consulted on the exhibition spaces and the best ways of creating accessibility, described their experiences: from how they got into their sport to becoming part of the Olympic or Paralympic teams. 

The new museum is designed to give a real sense of what it is like to be an athlete: training, walking into a stadium and how it feels to stand on a podium accepting a medal. For example, visitors can virtually race athletes on an indoor track, and even talk to virtual versions of them. Another gallery offers a 360-degree immersive experience where visitors enter a stadium during the Olympic opening ceremony with a crowd cheering them on.

When you arrive at the museum, every visitor receives an RFID tag that allows you to design your own journey, rather like the digital pen that was designed with DS+R at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York. RFID, short for radio frequency identification, uses radio waves to transmit data from the tag to a reader, which then transmits the information to a computer program. The visitor is able to focus on the sports, athletes and Olympic games they are interested in and store photos and videos that they can see later on the USOPM's website or by scanning the tag with their phone.

Visitors can virtually race athletes, talk to them and experience entering a stadium during the Opening Ceremonies with a crowd cheering them on

The soaring, central atrium that forms the entrance
to the museum with balconies that overlook the 
space and orient the visitor.
The atrium at the entrance soars three storeys high, with balconies overlooking the space below. This central gallery is brightened with clererstory lighting, designed to orient visitors along the path that moves through the exhibitions. The height of each glazed balcony overlooking the space is based on record-breaking Olympic jumps.

On the first level of the building, there is a theatre that has removable seats to accommodate wheelchairs, so that a Paralympic team can sit together. The second floor has an event space with a panoramic view across downtown Colorado Springs to the Rocky Mountains. Also on level two are the café and an education centre, across the plaza from the main museum building. The cafe’s landscaped roof has native plants that will change each season. On the third level is a multi-function boardroom with an outdoor terrace and a vast window looking across the dramatic natural landscape.

Diller Scofidio +Renfro also designed the new pedestrian bridge that crosses the railway yards in front of the museum, to a park opposite and connects a bike network downtown to the Midland Trail. Six prefabricated sections make up the bridge that will be built on site later this year, completing the museum project.

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