SKIDMORE, OWINGS & MERRILL
The AFA campus and buildings are an important part of the SOM portfolio. The original SOM collection of buildings, circa 1954-1962, shares a disciplined and common modernist design…
What was the most difficult issue about working within this building type or the most unexpected challenge that may have influenced new thought in your project?
The AFA campus and buildings are an important part of the SOM portfolio. The original SOM collection of buildings, circa 1954-1962, shares a disciplined and common modernist design language. The Chapel, on the other hand, is a unique expression that can be seen together along with the surrounding ramparts, ..an accent piece.
Our primary design challenge for the CCLD project was to create another distinct and contemporary, secular, signature element, (in close proximity to the chapel, which is their spiritual signature element), but also a solution that would be respectful of the existing campus. The CCLD program is organized around the subjects of character and leadership education and training. The building is an interesting mix of known functional spatial typologies, including assembly, classroom, breakout and office functions. The building also intertwines existing adjacent functions, that include outdoor spaces, offices, social, and assembly functions. We have also elaborated the existing design language, weaving the new features into the shared campus aesthetic. The solution mediates between existing hierarchies; two distinct campus levels, one that is publicly assessable, and a lower secure cadet level. The adjacent functions and distinct levels help to organize five new entries to the CCLD, all serving different constituent groups.
In summary, our design is a small, but very important and respectful addition to the historic landmark core of the Air Force Academy.
Did this project expand or evolve your role as an architect in any way? In general, do you feel that the role of the architect is changing on current projects?
Yes our role is constantly changing from project to project, and architects must constantly adapt to ever changing circumstances. Specifically, our roles vary widely and are dependent on the circumstances of a project. In general, the profession is relying on highly skilled, very well rounded professionals who are able to leverage all of the sophisticated design tools available.
How is your building possible today in a way that it may not have been before and how have trends in technology and society inspired new thought and solutions?
Almost everything is being designed in 3-dimensions. The technologies allow for new ways to consider potential solutions. In the case of the CCLD skylight feature, the solar alignment, energy modeling, structural engineering, and detailing, are all considered simultaneously. Programs can be written to optimize design variables based on certain assumed parameters. The results can be considered much more quickly than were allowed under previous working methods. The contingent relationships between the spaces, tectonics, and components of a design are merged together into a whole design that is considered simultaneously, during the design process.
In the context of this project, how is your office and design process being influenced by current trends in academic curricula and incoming young architects? In turn, how are current projects and processes guiding the ongoing reformulation and development of academic curricula?
Generally, in the case of the CCLD project, there is much more emphasis on whole building designs supporting continuous learning, interaction, and discovery.
Buildings are also being asked to accommodate highly flexible spaces and infrastructures. Many things must be considered together, and many variables must be viewed in a comparative way. Young highly skilled architects can contribute to a degree; however, we are seeing a strong reliance on talent with experience and the skills to leverage the opportunities and tools that we use. In a sense it seems to take longer to train talented young architects, as there is much more to learn. Architects are being asked to do more, be more specific, in an attempt to mitigate risk. I am not entirely sure that academia is keeping pace with the range of skills that are now required to be a successful architect. A variety of skills additional to design, are now required, and they definitely include a range of communication skills. The challenge and responsibility is for academia to teach students the necessary skills that they will need to adapt to the changing professional world. I believe that universities should engage a combination of practicing and academic architects, and perhaps create a more balanced student education.