U.S. Air Force Academy – Center for Character & Leadership Development – Structural Engineering

As an education and research center, The Center for Character & Leadership Development (CCLD) supports the U.S. Air Force Academy’s mission to integrate character and leadership development into all aspects of the Cadet experience. The new building represents an important and symbolic addition to the Academy’s historic campus, designed by SOM in 1954. With a bold design by an integrated architectural and structural engineering team, the CCLD introduces a contemporary counterpoint to the Academy’s iconic Cadet Chapel.

The building's signature design element is a dramatic, cantilevering skylight. Constructed of glass and steel, the 105-foot-tall structure establishes a strong presence on the campus, while bringing ample natural light into the building. With its dynamic form and machine-like precision, the design of the skylight is fluid yet disciplined. Its structure consists of diagonal steel plates in a triangular grid, precisely calibrated to the resist lateral forces of wind loading. Free of embellishment or ornamentation, the Architecturally Exposed Structural Steel (AESS) expresses the sleek connections of the structure. The glass-enclosed skylight aligns precisely with the North Star, Polaris, a symbol of the Academy’s mission to develop leaders of character.

Constructability was a key consideration in the design and detailing of the skylight. The design team worked to rationalize the skylight geometry so that the building could be constructed easily. Because the skylight is composed of AESS, the team sought to minimize the number of connections that must be made in the field. To accomplish this, the skylight is designed as a series of “stacked trusses.” Each truss was constructed on the ground, where the required level of finish could be more easily attained, before being lifted into place. The team considered the visual impact of the connections to preserve the seamless design aesthetic, while maintaining bolted connections for easy erection on site. Through the use of planar structural steel plate elements, the stacked truss system, and standard connection types, the resulting design is a unique form that requires no proprietary connections or specialty fabrication.