U.S. Air Force Academy – Center for Character & Leadership Development

Polaris Hall

CCLD
CCLD
CCLD
  • Client United States Air Force Academy
  • Region North America
  • Location Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States

Project Facts
  • Completion Year 2016
  • Design Finish Year 2009
  • Size Site Area: 86,500 Building Height: 105 feet Number of Stories: 1 Building Gross Area: 46,500
  • Sustainability Certifications LEED BD+C NC (New Construction) Gold, BD+C, Gold
  • Collaborators
    Faithful+Gould Brandston Partnership, Inc. Robert Nauman Nolte Associates, Inc. Code Consultants, Inc. Cerami & Associates Fisher Dachs Associates RWDI Consulting Engineers and Scientists Thk & Associates
Project Facts
  • Completion Year 2016
  • Design Finish Year 2009
  • Size Site Area: 86,500 Building Height: 105 feet Number of Stories: 1 Building Gross Area: 46,500
  • Sustainability Certifications LEED BD+C NC (New Construction) Gold, BD+C, Gold
  • Collaborators
    Faithful+Gould Brandston Partnership, Inc. Robert Nauman Nolte Associates, Inc. Code Consultants, Inc. Cerami & Associates Fisher Dachs Associates RWDI Consulting Engineers and Scientists Thk & Associates

A contemporary addition to a landmark campus

In the 1950s, SOM famously master-planned a rigorously modern campus for the U.S. Air Force Academy on a site abutting the Rocky Mountains. Five decades later, SOM revisited the campus—now a National Historic Landmark District—to design a home for the newly created Center for Character & Leadership Development (CCLD).

CCLD
© Magda Biernat

As an education and research center, the CCLD supports the U.S. Air Force Academy’s mission to integrate character and leadership development into all aspects of the Cadet experience. And with a bold design by an integrated architectural and structural engineering team, the CCLD introduces a contemporary counterpoint to the Academy’s iconic Cadet Chapel.


Creating a symbol through integrated design

The building’s most prominent feature, a 105-foot-tall skylight, symbolically serves as a navigation aid and as a reminder of the Academy’s core values. Shaped like an aircraft tailfin, this glass-enclosed structure precisely aligns with the astronomical movement of the North Star. It also provides ample natural illumination for the Honor Board Room below, where inquiries related to the Cadet Honor Code take place.

CCLD
© Magda Biernat
CCLD
© Magda Biernat
CCLD
© Magda Biernat

The structure of the skylight consists of steel plates that are arranged in a triangular grid and precisely calibrated to resist the lateral forces produced by wind loading. The planar geometry of the skylight determines the exterior profiles of each structural member, while the forces under lateral loading determine the interior profile of each member, resulting in a continuously curving profile that maximizes structural efficiency and minimizes material use.

Creating a symbol through integrated design

Engineering the skylight

The building’s signature design element is its dramatic, cantilevering skylight. Constructed of glass and steel, the 105-foot-tall structure establishes a strong presence on the campus, while bringing abundant daylight into the building. With its dynamic form and machine-like precision, the design of the skylight is fluid yet disciplined. Its structure consists of diagonal steel plates in a triangular grid that resists the lateral forces of wind loading. Free of embellishment or ornamentation, the Architecturally Exposed Structural Steel (AESS) expresses the sleek connections of the structure. The glass-enclosed skylight aligns precisely with the North Star, Polaris, a symbol of the Academy’s mission to develop leaders of character.

 

CCLD
© SOM
CCLD
© SOM

Constructability was a key consideration in the design and detailing of the skylight. The design team worked to rationalize the skylight geometry so that the building could be built easily. Because the skylight is composed of AESS, the team sought to minimize the number of connections that must be made in the field. To accomplish this, the skylight is designed as a series of “stacked trusses.” Each truss was constructed on the ground, where the required level of finish could be more easily attained, before being lifted into place. The team considered the visual impact of the connections to preserve the seamless design aesthetic, while maintaining bolted connections to facilitate erection on site. Through the use of planar structural steel plate elements, the stacked truss system, and standard connection types, the resulting design is a unique form that requires no proprietary connections or specialty fabrication.

Sustainability and integrated building systems were also key goals for the design. From displacement ventilation to radiant heating systems, the LEED-NC Gold building employs a variety of cohesive mechanical systems to ensure user satisfaction, energy efficiency, and cost-effective operations.

CCLD
© SOM
CCLD
© SOM

The center’s mechanical systems are integrated directly into the structure of the building—in the skylight in particular—rather than inserted as auxiliary systems. The skylight serves as a natural chimney, expelling hot air from automatic vents at the top. The insulated glazing and high performance coating of the skylight walls additionally reduce heat transfer, while strategically placed ceramic frits reduce glare. By affording the facility large amounts of daylight, the skylight reduces the need for artificial lighting. Overall, the skylight helps to reduce the building’s energy cost by 37 percent from the baseline of ASHRAE 90.1-2004 compliance. Outside of the building, small gardens around the periphery lower the immediate temperature and regulate the thermal load on the facility’s facade.

CCLD
CCLD
CCLD
CCLD
CCLD
© SOM

The Forum, a central gathering place

Below the skylight structure and at the center of the CCLD is the Forum, a flexible and dynamic gathering space for academic and social interaction. Its terraced levels accommodate gatherings for a variety of scales and formality, from intimate informal interaction in soft seating to formal lectures and symposia. Surrounding the Forum are glass-walled break-out rooms that further increase the building’s flexibility and transparency. The space is clad in maple with architectural elements such as handrails entirely integrated into the terraces and walls of wood.

Outside the Forum, the seminar rooms, break-out rooms, and offices face onto gardens on either side of the building. With turf and formal arrangements of trees, fountains, and benches, these terraces recall the Air Garden at the center of the Academy campus.


A holistic approach to sustainability

SOM approached sustainability through the lens of integrated building systems, which influences all aspects of design, construction, and operation. Overhead radiant panels and thermally active concrete slabs provide efficient heating and cooling. Ventilated air is decoupled and delivered at low speeds through displacement diffusers near the floor. As the air comes into contact with heat sources, it warms and rises, maximizing occupant comfort. The skylight serves as a solar chimney, exhausting hot air at its peak.

Thanks to the skylight and floor-to-ceiling glazing for all offices and classrooms, natural light fills the building’s interior. Energy-efficient lighting fixtures, daylight and occupancy sensors, and motorized shades work in concert to conserve energy. Photovoltaic panels generate renewable electricity and help reduce energy costs, helping the project achieve LEED-NC Gold certification.

CCLD
© Magda Biernat