A fin-shaped tower erected by SOM lets the US Air Force fly high

Two structures united in the need for admiration.

COLORADO – The US Airforce Academy campus in Colorado truly is a meeting point of superlatives – to say the least. The story begins on 29 Aug 1958, when 1145 cadets move from their temporary quarters at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver to an overtly modern campus near Colorado Springs. At the time of its reception, the design was controversial – it was thought of as too avant-garde and some members of congress tried to stop it from being built.


Image courtesy SOM / © Magda Biernat

The original Air Force facilities and successive additions have all been conceived by architecture giant SOM. The firm is a self-proclaimed international leader in its field with more than 2000 awards and multiple offices on every continent, designing large-scale super towers made of glass and steel, corporate headquarters and buildings for the most prestigious educational institutions in the United States.

In 1963, the campus was granted an addition of pure necessity: the Cadet Area, which includes the extravagant Cadet Chapel – a jewel-like structure resulting from a succession of 17 glass and aluminium spires, made of 100 tetrahedrons each. It looks as spectacular as it sounds.


The new phallic structure on the right is 'a reason-based counterpoint to the the Academy's iconinc (faith-based) chapel', explains SOM design partner Roger Duffy. Image courtesy SOM / © Magda Biernat

And now, finally, The Center for Character & Leadership Development (CCLD) – the newest addition by SOM – has been unveiled. The 4200-sqm building's gathering, office and library space is being illuminated by a rather unproportional skylight. With its slanted form, the 100-m-high tower is placed symbolically in the heart of the campus. The bold structure is entirely made of glass and shaped like a jet fin, majestically pointing skywards at an 45-degree angle - and apparently precisely aligning with the direction of Polaris, the North Star. Why this star? Because, according to the US Air Force, it signifies the Academy’s guiding values. What exactly the guiding ethics of a star are is not entirely clear, but it flies astronomically high – that could be a point of reference. If the Air Force campus had not been Colorado’s main tourist attraction since the unveiling of the spaceship-like Cadet Chapel, it could have been assumed that this additional spectacle is enacted to invite more visitors to the marvels of a military (fun) fair. 


Image courtesy SOM / © Magda Biernat

However, the official reason for the building of the new wing is to house the Academy Centre for Character & Leadership Development. The development of leadership skills, as often taught in US middle and high schools, involves the strengthening of eight main character traits: humanity, integrity, courage, accountability, collaboration, humility, justice and transcendence. While it is indisputable that these are crucial human qualities, it shows great humour that an American military organisation whose motto is ‘Aim high... Fly-fight-win’ and which is headquartered in the Pentagon – maybe soon to be commanded by Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton –  is committed to teach values like open-mindedness, modesty, empathy, caring and far-sightedness to others.


Image courtesy SOM / © Magda Biernat

'This iconic structure represents our bold vision to become the premier venue for the integrated study and development of character and leadership', says Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, Superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy. Be sure to point out sensible alternatives to those who are interested – there is an actual school dedicated to leadership and social entrepreneurship in Denmark, called Kaospilots. It may lack the phallic architecture and the spectacular visitor numbers, but it does not send military aircrafts to foreign countries.


Image courtesy SOM / © Magda Biernat


Image courtesy SOM / © Magda Biernat

Image courtesy SOM / © Magda Biernat

Image courtesy SOM / © Magda Biernat

Image courtesy SOM / © Magda Biernat

Image courtesy SOM / © Magda Biernat

som.com 


 

Leaderboard: Architonic
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