More than half a century after it was built, the landmark still presents a daring vision for a modern university Back-to-school time brings visions of quads ringed by brick buildings, and idyllic institutions basking in tradition. When most universities follow the blueprints set by traditional forebearers such as Harvard or Oxford, how do you create a modernist campus that still resonates with pride and symbolism, without lifting from the language of ivy-clad academia"
For the legendary Air Force Academy outside of Colorado Springs, Colorado, it required a radical jump into midcentury design. Master planned in the ?50s by a Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill (SOM) led by the then 34-year-old Walter Netsch, the site high in the Rockies has become a National Landmark, due to its sharp layout and striking Cadet Chapel, a transcendent religious building that looks like a fleet of jet straining towards the heavens. Streamlined steel, strength, and fearlessness, all set against the backdrop of the Rockies and an azure mountain sky; what better symbol, and site, for a school training Air Force officers"
According to Roger Duffy, design partner at SOM, this masterpiece in institutional design almost didn?t happen. When the Air Force decided to create a new campus to train officers, it was still relatively young, having just become independent after being part of the Army in WWII. Perhaps owing to its youth, the generals and bureaucrats who would be approving the campus layout initially favored a more weighty, West Point-like aesthetic on the plateau chosen for the school, something heavy, with gravitas.
The Air Force Academy
It took a powerful vision from Netsch and his team to win the commission and shift the bureaucracy away from their love of more traditional layout. The entire campus, in some ways as straight and narrow as a new recruit's buzz cut, was laid out following a unifying system, based on multiples of...