US Air Force Academy

With a strong foothold in modernist architecture, the Unites States Air Force Academy has always been a proponent of new ideas in architectural design. SOM is returning to the campus it first designed in 1954 to take on the Center for Character and Leadership Development, the first new building to be built on Academys campus since the late 1960s.

The Center for Character and Leadership Development is dedicated to elevating a sense of leadership and advancing character development through learning, practicing and preparing for leadership through service to the nation.

The Cadet Forum, at the heart of the Center for Character and Leadership Development, is a flexible and dynamic space for academic and social gatherings. The forum is surrounded by smaller classrooms that open onto it through large center-pivot glass doors. These break-out spaces also extend to the exterior courtyards of the facility, creating a continuous and transparent learning environment with opportunities for formal learning as well as an informal exchange of ideas. Because of the flexibility of the forum, the large space can accommodate a range of functions including a keynote address, a conference, a banquet, a caf environment, or even a student dance.
The primary design feature of the 46,000-square-foot building is a 105-foot-high skylight that draws in natural daylight and precisely aligns the space with Polaris, the North Star. The Academy uses Polaris as a constant and unchanging symbol for the right path for life. The oculus at the stop of the skylight perfectly frames one of the skys brightest stars throughout the year.

More than a symbolic gesture, the glass-clad skylight is also a key feature of the buildings overall sustainability initiative. The skylight provides ample natural light to the Forum and adjacent spaces below. Additionally, the south face of the skylight features integrated photovoltaic cells, generating electricity and shading the interior from the southern sun. The skylight also acts as a natural solar chimney. As solar energy heats the air inside, it rises and is exhausted near the top. This, in turn, draws cool fresh air into the building near its base, contributing to a complete fresh air ventilation system.

Additional sustainable measures, such as radiant floors and ceilings used for heating and cooling, and native landscaping contribute to the buildings anticipated LEED Platinum certification.


Project Type


Colorado Springs,