The new U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum was designed as an invitation to people of all abilities to share in the triumph of champions.
“We wanted to design a museum that not only eliminated physical barriers but created a completely shared experience, as well,” said Benjamin Gilmartin, a partner at Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the Manhattan-based architecture firm that designed the building.
The accessible experience begins in the lobby, where visitors can request transport chairs, noise-canceling headphones, assistive listening devices, touchscreen styluses, and sensory-input items like fidget tools and weighted lap pads. Additionally, before they get started, patrons can customize their museum tour by adding preferences to an electronic tag. They can select aids like audio-described videos, high-contrast or enlarged fonts for captions, and text-to-speech screen readers. As the visitor enters each exhibit, the programmed tag automatically turns on the desired effects.
The tour starts with an elevator ride to the top floor and works its way through the exhibits, descending each floor with accessibly sloped ramps that are wide enough for two wheelchairs to comfortably pass. “From the earliest stages of design, the team consulted a committee of Paralympic athletes and persons with disabilities to ensure that, from entrance to exit, all visitors with or without disabilities could tour the USOPM facility together and share a common path,” the architects say on their website. In a cool symbolic way, that common 400-foot-long path also allows people to emulate the journey of an Olympic skier on their downhill run to glory.
All the flooring in the 60,000-square-foot museum is a uniform polished concrete, eliminating mobility obstructions. Plus, all videos play with open captions and American Sign Language translations. All touchscreens have tactile keypads to assist the visually impaired.
The 12 gallery halls housed within the museum’s three floors tell the story of Olympic contenders stretching back as far as the first Greek Games in 776 B.C. Visitors can read about each of the 154 inductees to the Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame, race against their favorite animated athlete on an interactive track, take on the giant slalom via simulator, and see a collection of modern Olympic torches. And of course, there’s also a plethora of gear, uniforms, and inspirational quotes from many beloved athletes throughout the space.
Outside, in keeping with the athleticism of the Olympians, the multi-angled facade of the exterior structure and its nearly 9,000 reflective anodized aluminum panels continue the feeling of motion. Across a pedestrian and wheelchair-friendly plaza, Diller Scofido + Renfro also designed a multipurpose structure with an outdoor amphitheater. The interior contains a café, a flexible theater that can accommodate up to 26 wheelchairs, and an event space with mountain vistas and a 500-square-foot terrace.
Nestled in the shadow of Pikes Peak, the Colorado Springs museum is located just three miles from the Olympic Training Center, where more than 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes hone their skills each year. While the OTC is not currently accepting visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, patrons at the new museum are welcome seven days a week from 10 AM to 5 PM.