Gold Medal in Accessibility: the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum

Gold Medal in Accessibility: the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum

For decades, Colorado Springs has been a city defined by its prominent institutions. Home to the United States Air Force Academy, the city has seen the proliferation and gradual downsizing of massive industries, including dozens of prominent defense contractors and some of the country’s largest high-tech manufacturers. But the city also has another identity altogether.

With a mild climate, mountainous terrain, and high altitude, Colorado Springs prides itself as an ideal training ground. Home to the Pikes Peak Marathon, a grueling trial run with nearly 8,000 feet of vertical climb, Colorado Springs is a place that rewards the hardy and the tough—which is perhaps why it’s become a headquarters to those seeking Olympic glory. 

Known as Olympic City, USA, Colorado Springs is home to the United States Olympic & Paralympic Training Center, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee, and 24 national federations for individual Olympic sports. The result is a city flourishing with sports therapists, fitness companies, and athletic administrators. And each year, approximately 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls will make the pilgrimage to Colorado to condition, hone their skills, and grow stronger. 

For tourists drawn to Colorado Springs for its world-class hiking and natural beauty, an Olympic attraction is an easy sell. More than 140,000 visitors already flock to the Olympic Training Center each year, touring the extensive complex that can host up to 500 top-tier athletes and coaches at any given time. 

And so, Colorado Springs was also the natural fit to host a dedicated attraction that honors the efforts and accomplishments of Team USA: the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum (USOPM).

Opened in July 2020, the complex was designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who also helmed the extensive, $450 million renovation of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Compared to MoMA, USOPM is a far humbler affair at $91 million and 60,000 square feet. However, its influence could be just as monumental. 

Made up of two structures and an adjoining amphitheater-like plaza, the USOPM complex sits on the edge of Colorado Springs, ready to attract Olympic enthusiasts and architectural tourists alike. 

The main building’s elegant, origami-like shape is intended to evoke both nearby Pikes Peak and an athlete in motion. Clad in 9,000 entirely-unique reflective aluminum panels, the building feels simultaneously rounded and angular, the taut drape of the facade forming a kind of architectural spandex over four petal-like volumes. The building stretches upward like a runner in starting position, an abstract but recognizably athletic form. From above, the structure is modeled after a spinning discus-thrower. 

However, the most remarkable thing about the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum is its pioneering devotion to universal accessibility. Every effort has been made to accommodate visitors of all capabilities, ensuring total ADA compliance and developing the museum’s content in ways that reach all visitors. 

Exhibit cases take multiple viewing heights into account, ensuring those in wheelchairs get the full benefit of the displays. And guests are issued RFID-embedded lanyards that enable tailored engagement with interactive exhibits, prompting captions, descriptive audio, or translation where preferred. 

Crucially, though, the museum’s visitors take its journey together—no matter their abilities. Whereas many museums push accessibility features to the margins with afterthought ramps or hidden elevators, the USOPM has planned a common path open to all. Visitors share an elevator ride to the top floor and then descend continuously along a gradual, gentle ramp over its three stories and twelve galleries.

Due to the pandemic, the immediate future of the Olympics is uncertain, with the planned 2020 Tokyo Games pushed to 2021. Questions surround travel, attendance, and how the games themselves can adjust and accommodate the challenges we currently face.

Until we’re able to gather en masse again, the spirit of the Games, along with its icons: torches, medals, and uniforms, are on full display in Colorado Springs, where masked visitors can make their socially distanced way through the museum. In a perhaps-fitting twist, visitors’ RFID lanyards also make things safer in the time of Coronavirus. They enable the museum to monitor guest movement and prevent over-crowding—proof that thoughtful design isn’t merely a matter of altruism or generosity. It’s also our best way forward. 

Celebrating the Carver Theater

Celebrating the Carver Theater

The Carver Theater, named after George Washington Carver, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1950, this state-of-the-art theater for African-Americans in New Orleans hosted bands, shows, and community events. In its heyday, the Theater was a magnificent building serving as a cultural center bringing people together. The Carver was retired as a movie theater in 1980. The theater sustained heavy water damage during Hurricane Katrina, Yet, the building was completely renovated by Perez and opened in 2014 after the $8 million renovation. #weareperez celebrating #blackhistorymonth

TODAY

Claiborne Avenue Civil Rights Memorial

Claiborne Avenue Civil Rights Memorial

Perez was on the design team for aesthetic and site/civil improvements (landscape, lighting, storm drainage) to a length of the 80-foot wide median along South Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans, extending for a one mile stretch from Napoleon Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. One day during the design phase, Landscape Architect Brandon Adams was standing at the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial on MLK Boulevard and noticed the list of 9 other individuals that had lost their lives as a result of their involvement with the Civil Rights Movement.  At that time, Mr. Adams decided to propose at a community meeting that a design of a memorial for those nine leaders be included in the project. The final design included a curvilinear walkway, lined with Date Palm trees, leading from the existing Martin Luther King Jr. memorial to a new memorial structure dedicated to the nine Civil Rights advocates. The memorial designed by Brandon Adams of Perez contains text describing the life of each person and their contributions inscribed in precast concrete panels on the ground level under a concrete and steel structure. The project was completed in 2014. Thanks to the design team lead All South Consulting Engineers, LLC; New Orleans Department of Public Works; New Orleans Regional Planning Commission; US Army Corps of Engineers; and Landscape Architects Brandon Adams, Johanna Leibe, Charlotte Cox.

Gambit Article on the Memorial

Bojangles Park of Harlem

Bojangles Park of Harlem

“Perez is proud to be associated with Brandon Adams PLA, the Landscape Architect that designed the renovation of the Bojangles Park in Harlem for the NYC Parks and Recreation back in 1992. The renovated park was published in Landscape Architecture Magazine soon after completion. The photographic mural of Bill Bojangles Robinson, designed by Mr. Adams, has been designated a New York City Monument. The Park was recently refurbished, with the refurbishment design done in-house by the NYC Parks & Recreation. They did not change much of Brandon’s original design. The ribbon-cutting happened on December 11, 2020.  The following is a link to an article on the renovation and opening. #blackhistorymonth #weareperez

NOMA Louisiana celebrates Mr. Lonnie Hewitt, Jr.

NOMA Louisiana celebrates Mr. Lonnie Hewitt, Jr.

NOMA Louisiana celebrates the legacy and mourns the loss, of one of our chapter’s founders and longest-standing supporters. Mr. Lonnie Hewitt, Jr. last week passed away at the age of 75 due to complications of COVID-19.

Born in New Orleans in 1946, Hewitt attended L.B. Landry High School in Algiers, graduating in 1964, and the Southern University School of Architecture in Baton Rouge, graduating in 1969. In 1978, he partnered with James Washington to form Hewitt-Washington and Associates, a partnership whose architectural and planning work can be found throughout the city of New Orleans and south Louisiana. The firm’s bold postmodern buildings house businesses and civic institutions like public schools, libraries, churches, and the Regional Transit Authority, while its contributions to planning projects like the 1984 World’s Fair, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, and the Moonwalk enhanced New Orleans’ civic realm. Mr. Hewitt was a mentor to dozens of minority architects, including many past and present members of NOMA Louisiana, and a passionate advocate for minority representation in his field.  

A more complete account of Mr. Hewitt’s life and legacies can be found in these obituaries published in the Times-Picayune Advocate and in New Orleans CityBusiness. Mr. Hewitt’s family asks that, in lieu of flowers, donations in his memory be made to NOMA Louisiana Project Pipeline

A Modern Home for Ancient Relics: the Grand Egyptian Museum

A Modern Home for Ancient Relics: the Grand Egyptian Museum

By most estimates, the Great Pyramid of Giza—one of the most enduring icons of architecture and a pinnacle of human achievement—took between ten and twenty years to build. While the method and circumstances of the pyramid’s construction are still a matter of spirited debate, it seems clear that the structure went up in a flurry, rising taller above Cairo with each passing day. 

Less than a mile away, the Grand Egyptian Museum is on track to take significantly longer than the pyramid complex it celebrates. Kicking off in 2002, the ambitious project was originally slated to open back in 2011, but a series of financial challenges and logistical delays have hampered the project’s progress. 

The new museum is envisioned as a significant upgrade to the existing Egyptian Museum in downtown Cairo, which was built in 1902 and now lags behind in modern security, preservation, and curatorial practices. Compared with its Grand counterpart, the original museum now seems almost hopelessly quaint, a regional curiosity or a relic of another era. 

Today, the $795 million Grand Egyptian Museum is hurtling toward an early-2021 opening date—though smart money would leave the door open for another postponement. While various 90-something “percentage complete” estimates have been tossed around by officials, the Coronavirus pandemic proved to be the final nail in the project’s 2020 sarcophagus.

Whenever it does open, the massive building will house some of the world’s most famous treasures, including the complete collection of Tutankhamun artifacts (together again for the first time since their excavation) and a 30-foot, 83 ton granite statue of Ramses II that used to stand above a Cairo roundabout.

The building’s initial design came from Dublin-based Heneghan and Peng, who won the project in an international design competition. While the aesthetics of the project have evolved over the past decade, the cumulative effect is still striking. A massive wedge of a building, the effect is somewhere between the Seven Wonders of the World and the Las Vegas strip. 

Built on an incline from the Nile basin to the desert plateau where Giza’s pyramids sit, the 5.2 million-square-foot structure boasts an imposing, translucent facade that incorporates plenty of pyramid-shaped forms, creating geometric harmony with its neighbor. Built from insulated concrete to combat the harsh desert weather, the scale of the building is appropriately grand, with lofty exhibit halls bathed in natural light. 

With room for 100,000 artifacts, the world-class museum is expected to see between five and eight million visitors a year. Hosting an unparalleled collection—on par with the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum of Art—the Grand Egyptian Museum could prove to be a serious tourist driver for Egypt as a whole, as the museum’s extensive holdings are properly experienced as a multi-day affair. Consequently, Egypt is in talks to create a 52-acre hotel district near the attraction, ensuring that Giza is no longer just a tour bus stopover, but instead a destination in its own right. 

As one might expect, the project is not without controversy. In a country characterized by regular political unrest, an enormous and opulent tourist attraction is bound to raise eyebrows, a symbol of a country torn between its international reputation and its domestic politics. It was on the doorstep of the original Egyptian Museum, in Tahrir Square, that a 2011 popular revolution ignited, capturing the world’s attention. And it was the target of that same uprising, Hosni Mubarak, who laid the foundation stone for the Grand Egyptian Museum back in 2002.

Ancient Egypt will always captivate us. When 59 sarcophagi were discovered in October, the story became world news—as did the news of where they’d end up on display: the Grand Egyptian Museum. For centuries, the cultural riches of Egypt have been scattered across the world, removed from their original context. It seems that “Egypt” has become a wing of every museum in the world instead of a real place.

While the Grand Egyptian Museum’s legacy might be a complicated one, it does at least provide a single spiritual headquarters for our fascination with a civilization that feels both impossibly distant and tantalizingly recent. And while the building itself may be breathtaking and impressive, its most worthwhile feature might just be the panoramic view it offers of the pyramids. As with all great museums, the artifacts are the star. The building is a frame to support them.