The United States Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel (USAFA), completed in 1963, is the distinguishing feature of the Cadet Area at the United States Air Force Academy north of Colorado Springs. It was designed by Walter Netsch of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), and was the culminating architectural element of SOM’s master plan and design of the entire 3000 acre U.S. Air Force Academy campus, which features housing for 8,000 people, a supply center, a hospital, an airfield and an academic complex.


Originally controversial in its design, the Cadet Chapel has become a classic and a highly regarded example of modernist architecture. The program required three distinct chapels: a 900-seat Protestant chapel, a 500-seat Catholic chapel, and a 100-seat Jewish chapel. Each chapel has a separate entrance.

The main floor Protestant chapel is enclosed by the aforementioned tetrahedrons clad in extruded aluminum separated by continuous colored glass panels, with windows of special laminated glass. The terrace-level Catholic chapel is characterized by precast masonry forming the ceiling pattern, with side walls of amber glass and strip windows of faceted glass. The Jewish chapel is a circular room enclosed in cypress frames and stained-glass slabs, with a foyer of brown Jerusalem stone donated by the Israeli Air Force.

MAIN FLOOR PROTESTANT CHAPEL
CATHOLIC AND JEWISH CHAPELS

The striking 45m tall building (85m long and 25 m wide) features a succession of 17 glass and aluminum spires — each composed of 100 tetrahedrons — enclosing the upper level. Each tetrahedron is 23m long, weighs 5000kg, and is enclosed with clear aluminum panels. They are comprised of 150mm tubes with 100mm secondary cross-braces, which were manufactured in Missouri and shipped to the site by rail. Each tetrahedron is spaced 300mm apart, which creates gaps in the framework that are filled with 25mm thick colored glass that enable diffused light to enter the building.

 

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The south-facing front facade has a wide granite stairway with steel railings capped by aluminum handrails and leads up to a one story landing. At the landing is a band of gold anodized aluminum doors. Above the doors is a glass wall. The triangular north facade consists of a glass curtain wall in an aluminum frame.

In 1996, the Cadet Chapel won the Twenty-five Year Award from the American Institute of Architects. SOM recently completed a comprehensive rehabilitation and modernization plan for the iconic landmark.

IMAGES COURTESY: ARCH2O
Project Details
Architect : Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM)
Location : Colorado, US
Project Completion : 1963
Total Area : 5098 sqm
Main Contractor : Robert E. McKee, Inc.

 

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