U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum—Accessible Dreams

The highly anticipated and accessible U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum (Colorado Springs, Colo.) was designed and built by an all-star team, which included CRĒO Industrial Arts, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Gallagher & Associates.

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Read Time: 8.5 minutes

The new, 60,000-square-foot universally-designed U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum is the first dedicated entirely to preserving and celebrating Team USA’s legacy in both the Olympic and Paralympic games. Conceived by architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro with gallery spaces designed by Gallagher & Associates, the immersive, interactive storytelling experience aims to embody the intensity of competition and the energy and grace of athletes in motion.

The new USOPM is a critical cornerstone of Colorado Springs' new "City for Champions" district, which is also home to a U.S. Olympic Training Facility. The four-project, over $250 million, strategic development plan worked on by G&A with the City of Colorado Springs and the U.S. Olympic Committee, was designed to boost the local tourism industry by attracting over one million visitors annually. 

The goal was the creation of an international destination, and in 2019, The New York Times’ “52 Places to Visit in 2020” named Colorado Springs the #13 destination, citing USOPM as a key factor. In order to ensure success, feasibility studies, site selection, and business planning efforts for the Museum were conducted by Gallagher Museum Services, setting a solid business foundation for USOPM.

The client also engaged Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv to design a new brand identity in keeping with the unique purview of the museum, although the existing design will also stay in use as a point of connection to the Olympic and Paralympic games. The design takes visual inspiration from the Olympic rings, Paralympic agitos, the American flag, and even the building’s diamond-shaped façade. Sagi Haviv, partner and principal designer at the firm says the challenge in the design lay in creating a "new and original mark" from " two of the most famous identities in the world."

USOPM CEO, Christopher Liedel, describes the new logo as a blending of classic and modern. “The Museum experience merges the tradition of the Olympic and Paralympic Games with state-of-the art technology to tell the inspiring stories of Team USA athletes in a compelling way, and this logo is reflective of that balance.”

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On the exhibition and spatial design side, the approach was a reflection of the paths of the games and the athletes themselves. "The Museum’s core themes were established at the very beginning of the project; starting with the history of the Olympics, the values, the journey to excellence, and everything it takes to be an Olympic athlete," says Carl Rhodes, exhibit design director at G&A. "Once DS+R became involved and gave form to the vision, I could see how much energy, movement, and dynamism was given to the shape of the building itself. That’s when we knew the museum experience had to match the powerful design of the building itself."

At the heart of the journey, are the personal stories of Team USA athletes—their lifelong dedication, motivation, determination, and sacrifice to compete at the highest level—beginning with a 40-foot-tall LED media wall in the atrium that shows dynamic footage of competitors in motion. Anticipation builds as an elevator lifts guests to the atrium’s “peak” with views of the Colorado landscape and Pike’s Peak in the distance—a clever nod to “America’s Mount Olympus.” Then, the winding sequence of galleries guides them downward, through the history of the games and training to the moment every Olympian has been working to achieve: the competition itself.

First, visitors explore the background of the games in "Olympic and Paralympic Movements," move through the "Journey to Excellence," and go on to "Athlete Training," where they can choose to actively participate in Olympic and Paralympic sports. Speed, agility, strength, and endurance are tested with physical and digital interactives, seamlessly customized by RFID. 

In "The Lab," visitors enter a sleek space with ample opportunities to explore the equipment advancements behind Olympic & Paralympic sporting achievements. From Michael Johnson’s iconic gold running shoes to a racing wheelchair and running blades, recognizable artifacts are placed behind transparent LED screens, turning each into a memorable and vibrant exploration.

The experiential journey peaks at one of the most significant moments in an athlete’s journey: "The Parade of Nations." Visitors enter a tunnel that mimics the tension and excitement athletes feel as their dreams become reality. Cheers from the crowd can be heard in the background as the stadium emerges on the other side. Inside, a 360-degree film-led Opening Ceremonies experience immerses visitors in celebration.

"Leaving Parade of Nations, you walk down a ramp—it’s a narrow, compressed space—then, turn the corner, and the entire Summer Games gallery reveals itself. From a design standpoint, it’s my favorite reveal. You get a sense of something powerful," says Rhodes. "The design of this gallery was inspired by the entrance to a stadium, from the athlete’s perspective. It’s not a literal translation, but it’s a feeling that we wanted to capture in the space."

Next visitors travel from Summer to Winter Games as spectators to the sports, artifacts, moments, and personal tales of athletes, families, and coaches. "The World Watches," examines Olympic-inspired pop culture moments, and guests come "face-to-face" with virtual Olympic and Paralympic athletes before learning how the games influence national and international events and politics.

The journey concludes at the Medal Ceremony—an immersive, interactive media environment that invites visitors to feel the emotional acknowledgement of a lifetime of dedication and training that athletes do on the podium. Ideally, they leave with a better understanding of how the games connect us all through the universal language of competition.

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The USOPM team envisioned a museum that elevates the standards for accessibility and inclusivity—for all—a goal, which went past the stair-less architecture to required intense collaboration between the exhibition design, fabrication, media, and interactive development specialists. Their creative process was rooted in rapid prototyping, iteration and testing with diverse user groups, including Olympic and Paralympic athletes at each phase of the process.

"After so much time planning to create design concepts that enable a truly inclusive experience, we finally got to see them tested by real Paralympic athletes. With the various disabilities represented, to see them engage and excited to participate… That’s when we knew we were doing something truly unique and meaningful," says Rhodes.

The insights gained working with the athletes helped to set a new benchmark for accessibility through the use of universal design, from check-in options to audio descriptions. “We wanted to make this the most accessible Museum in the country—maybe even the whole of North America," he notes. "Creating a truly inclusive environment became a major driving force in every design decision we made.” 

RFID badges obtained at check-in allow guests to specify specific needs, like audio descriptions for those with visual impairment. For example, as the guest travels through the museum, the badge triggers descriptive audio experiences—even the length and detail of which, were guided by athlete-testers. Best practices were used for display heights, contrasts, fonts, and motion as well. Interactive experiences allowing visitors to "play" various Olympic and Paralympic games were tailored to for users of all abilities and sizes, inclusive of enabling devices. 

At the onset of the crises caused by the SARS COV-2/COVID-19 pandemic, Gallagher Museum Services mobilized a strategic plan for delayed opening of the museum, from securing additional capital to extensive scenario planning. GMS—G&A’s feasibility and operations division—worked closely with the G&A design team, protecting the Museum’s interest during the development process, and has been engaged beyond opening for financial and operational services.

To create a safe space for staff and guests, the team developed a best-in-class plan to create a contactless experience, from end-to-end. The new system has been lauded by Colorado health officials as “a look into the future of how events, large gatherings, and attractions can be held in the COVID-19 reality.”

“The planning work that GMS has done for the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum has been critical to our success," says Liedel. "Their strategic planning, leadership, and collaboration have provided a roadmap for the long-term sustainability of the Museum post-COVID-19. Together, we created new paradigms in an effective business strategy for museums leveraging the latest visual technologies.”

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While the delay of the 2020 games has been especially challenging for the entire Olympic community, the Museum provides a collective opportunity to reflect on the importance of the games' unifying effect—not only for athletes, but as a nation, and a people. "Fundamentally, this Museum speaks to the most meaningful aspects of who we are as Americans. It’s a journey everyone should take to connect with a powerful message of solidarity and national pride," concludes Patrick Gallagher, president and founder of G&A.

Recognized by many publications including The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, and Architectural Digest as one of the most highly anticipated new projects of 2020, USOPM has already become known for its innovative interactive and accessible design. “The stories of Olympic and Paralympic athletes are unlike any other, and it’s their emotional journey that makes this Museum so unique. These stories informed a seamless integration between experience and architecture, creating a Museum that performs like none other,” says Gallagher, noting how "deeply honored" his colleagues have been to be involved in this important project and talented team.

"This meaningful experience will forever transform how people perceive and appreciate what it takes to become an Olympic and Paralympic athlete."

 

 

Project Name: U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum
Client: U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum
Location: Colorado Springs, Colo.
Open Date: July 2020
Project Area: 60,000 sq ft
Project Budget: $90,000,000
Architect: Diller Scofidio + Renfro (architect), Anderson Mason Dale Architects (architect of record)
Experiential Graphic Design: Gallagher & Associates
Fabrication: CRĒO Industrial Arts
Collaborators: Gallagher Museum Services (owner's representation, operations management); Barrie Projects (feasibility study consultant, content & artifact acquisition); Available Light (lighting design); Institute for Human Centered Design (accessibility consultant); RGLA (retail & cafe design) ; CentreScreen, Kiss The Frog (media & interactive development); Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv (branding), Comcast NBCUniversal (footage & film); Team USA (content, testing)
Photography: USOPM, William Baum, Gallagher & Associates, Diller Scofidio + Renfro
Videography: Gallagher & Associates

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