In the middle of Colorado, an institution is hidden in the mountains like a gem in a limestone quarry. The United States Air Force Academy campus is as architecturally important as it is stunning, with scenic views of the Rocky Mountains. Since 1955, the academy has been tasked with providing the Air Force with leaders of character and is one of only four institutions that require leadership and character training for every student for all four years of enrollment. No matter what degree a cadet chooses, each receives training from the Center for Character and Leadership Development (CCLD). It is the academy’s largest program, yet until now it was a program without a home. Its classes were scattered throughout the campus and at times even housed in nearby Colorado Springs. “All of the other academic departments had homes,” says academy architect Duane Boyle. “Our biggest program needed a space of its own.” And the new building will be striking not only in design but also in purpose.

From this angle, the glass tower in the background is meant to look like the tail of an aircraft.

From this angle, the glass tower in the background is meant to look like the tail of an aircraft.


Location Colorado Springs, CO
Size 46,000 ft²
Completed 2013 (expected)
Program Classrooms, office space, meeting rooms

Creating Leaders

With a staff of 30, the CCLD is the physical home for all program classes, the Cadet Honor Committee, and the Wing Character Officer. The Honor Committee’s mission includes maintaining and enforcing the cadet honor code. “Members of the Air Force don’t lie, cheat, or steal, nor do we tolerate others who do,” says Thomas Berry Jr., deputy director of the center, adding that the role of the center extends beyond the Air Force, or even the military. “All of our cadets become Air Force officers upon graduation. But they are also citizens, and we are producing leaders for life.” The committee is also involved with the outreach and service programs within the community and coordinates with other colleges and universities around the country.

Public Access

The CCLD will be situated at the west end of the academic area, close to both Arnold Hall, a cadet student center, and the famous Cadet Chapel (No.1). This location makes the building easily accessible to both the cadet population and the visiting public, creating a relatively unique opportunity—there are few places where cadet and public traffic cross. The Air Force Academy, however, is one of Colorado’s largest tourist destinations, and the new CCLD showcases the academy’s mission.


Client US Air Force Academy
Architect Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Landscape Architect THK Associates
General Contractor ECC, GH Phipps

Moral Architecture

Continuity in design exists throughout the campus, and this consistency is important. It perpetuates a moral message. “Everything at the academy is very orthogonal and based upon right angles,” Boyle says (No.2). Berry, who graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1971, brings the tangible design philosophy into ideological terms. “It’s about bringing the themes of the architecture into life,” Berry says. “Freshmen at the academy have to walk everywhere in straight lines and take turns at right angles. It reminds us to do the right thing and also that there is a correct way to do things. It brings home those ideas of right and wrong.”

Glass Tower

The most dynamic feature of the structure is a 105-foot-tall glass tower, skewed to the north to align with the North Star (No.3). The symbolic importance of the North Star is twofold: aviators have used the North Star, or Polaris, to navigate for centuries, and it also indicates the guidance that the academy hopes to impress upon its cadets. “Aviators need the magnetic compass to navigate terrain, but you also need a moral compass as an officer,” Berry says. Visually, the tower will be a butt-glass system with a smooth glass skin covering an intricate steel plate structure, resembling a spiderweb.

The Forum is a dynamic space fit for various gatherings located in the center of the CCLD.

The Forum is a dynamic space fit for various gatherings located in the center of the CCLD.


Certification LEED Silver (expected)
Materials Sourced from within 500 miles
Energy Convection cooling trough on glass tower, photovoltaic panels
Lighting Natural light, occupancy sensors
Landscape Interior courtyard

Natural Design

The glass tower will be used to convey a large amount of heat out of the building through vents located at the top of the tower. There is also a frit pattern on the exterior surface of the glass to cut down on the heat gain (No.4). Natural light was one of the top priorities for the design of the structure, and all functional areas have access to direct daylight. “Light and fresh air were two very important things,” Berry says. “Everyone gets to see the outside, and every office has a mountain view. We wanted to bring the outside in.” The team added occupancy sensors to the interior, and photovoltaic panels, which are now incorporated in all campus projects, were added to the outside of the building.

Integrative Landscape

One of the more complicated elements of the center is the surrounding area and the ways in which the center is integrated into the rest of the academy. Most critical was the landscape. The base of the glass tower actually rests on an island and projects into an exterior courtyard, one of many courtyards in the landscape design, which also includes a reflecting pool (No.5). On the cadet level, the building is connected to the main terrazzo. Above is a large public plaza called the Honor Court, which is connected to the CCLD via a ceremonial staircase.