When described to the city of Colorado Springs’ code reviewers at one point, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum was three stories and a basement.
To anyone standing outside — and especially navigating the inside — that will likely seem ludicrous.
“Nothing this complicated in my professional career,” project manager John Graham of Anderson Mason Dale Architects said. “It’s really, really interesting to see how many people this project has obviously kept really busy doing an amazing amount of really smart work.”
New York-based Diller Scofidio + Renfro designed the museum, unveiling concept designs in May 2015. The company’s other projects include redevelopment of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and currently the Museum of Modern Art expansion in New York.
Denver-based architect of record Anderson Mason Dale was awarded the project in 2014. While Diller Scofidio + Renfro developed the concept and mapped it out, Anderson Mason Dale oversaw the day-to-day along with a team of consultants.
“It’s a beautifully unique form, but it has to get put together with real materials,” Andy Nielsen, a guiding architect on the project, said. “It’s trying to capture the spirit of sport and the spirit of the Games ... in brick and mortar.”
Palmer High School grad Luc Bamberger drove down several times per month. Among many other things, he oversaw the installation of arguably the project’s biggest construction challenge — the skin.
“(DSR’s) concept was really, ‘How do we capture the dynamic movement and spirit of Olympic athletes?’ They really saw this form as being kind of evocative of athletes in motion, kind of this dynamic twisting shape,” he said. “Even for them, this one’s really, I’d say very unique, worldwide in terms of the skin, how it was articulated, how it was designed and how it’s manufactured.”
“It’s fun to see it going up in my hometown. It’s exciting.”
“Just less than” 10,000 “diamond panels” stretching and flexing over the twisting shape of the building are meant to evoke the fabric of an Olympic swimmer’s skintight suit. No two panels are the same.
Bamberger said basic rules were set up about the panels’ geometry and how they’d lift up at one end. That was inserted into computer software, which laid out a pattern across the building within defined boundaries. They were manufactured at MG McGrath Architectural Surfaces in Minnesota.
Each panel had “cut and mark” fold lines and a unique, traceable panel on the back. They were all hand-bent at McGrath. They would slide down, lock and screw in.
“We really harnessed every tool we had available to us in terms of computers, computer software,” Bamberger said.
As precise as the planning was, Bamberger said there was still “definitely a learning curve” and as workers started on the south elevation and got a few rows up, they had to pull them off and start over.
The interior is also designed to convey “dynamic movement.” Ramps containing exhibitions spiral through the spaces.
“It was an intricate puzzle to get all these spaces layered together,” Bamberger said.
The museum is close to train tracks and the “acoustic imposition,” as Nielson called it, of the trains called for a feat of design. They built a “floating” theater, suspended within the structure of the museum but not connected to it.
A floating slab was built on top of the structural slab, embedded with “a grid of isolation jacks.” A crew armed with Allen wrenches was sent in to “lift the floor up bit by bit.” The result is an “unbelievably acoustically distinct” experience, according to Graham.
Bamberger said a “dramatic” lobby lit from above welcomes guests. A large LED screen was set to project footage and graphics. The idea was scrapped due to cost, then resurrected. He contributed heavily to its creation.
It will welcome thousands to this labor of love. Three stories and a basement, indeed.