Olympic City Design

How to design an Olympic City

Olympic City Design

150 years in the making!

2021 marks 150 years of the city that hosts the majoriy of the US Olympic and Paralympic Movements organizations, training sites and museum. The story begins sometime after the end of the US Civil war in the dawn of the industrial era as visionary ex-generals, industrialists, fortune-seekers head west to live their dream. Like so many great before them, these visionaries after amasing legendary fortunes, seek to gain immortality through real estate statements that would stand the test of time. As one looks back, the dots of today’s Olympic City USA are primerarly connecting through a series of real estate milestones. Like compound interest, fuel over time, the ideal conditions for the best of the best to have the necessary infrastructure — in Olympic City USA — to leave their mark on the world stage.

First Act

Olympic City USA was not always Olympic City USA. The Ute, Arapaho and Cheyenne peoples were the first recorded inhabiting the area which would become Colorado Springs. Part of the territory included in the United States’ 1803 Louisiana Purchase, the current city area was designated part of the 1854 Kansas Territory. In 1859, after the first local settlement was established, during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush. So many immigrants from England had settled in Colorado Springs by the early 1870s that Colorado Springs was locally referred to as “Little London. From 1899 to 1901 Tesla Experimental Station operated. In 1950, Ent Air Force Base was selected as the Cold Warheadquarters for Air Defense Command (ADC).

The 1950s through 1970s saw a continued expansion of the military presence in the area, with the establishment of NORAD’s headquarters in the city, as well as the ADCOM headquarters. In the 60s, the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak Community College and Colorado Technical University were established in or near the city.

In 1977 most of the former Ent AFB became the US Olympic training center. The Colorado Springs OPTC was the first to be built, and has been the home of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee since 1978. Its location on the former Ent Air Force Base was selected for its relatively high elevation, which is often thought to improve training effectiveness. Its facilities include an Olympic-size swimming pool, an indoor shooting range, the Olympic Training Center Velodrome, two sports centers housing numerous gymnasiums and weight rooms, and a sports science laboratory, in addition to an athlete center and dining hall, several dormitories, a visitors’ center, and the offices of both the USOPC and U.S. Paralympics.

Colorado Springs has a cooler, dry-winter semi-arid climate (Köppen BSk), and its location just east of the Rocky Mountains affords it the rapid warming influence from chinook winds during winter but also subjects it to drastic day-to-day variability in weather conditions

Colorado Springs, dubbed Olympic City USA, is home to the United States Olympic Training Center and the headquarters of the United States Olympic Committee and the United States Anti-Doping Agency. In addition, 24 of the United States’ national federations for individual Olympic sports have their headquarters in Colorado Springs, including: US bobsled, fencing, figure skating, basketball, boxing, cycling, judo, field hockey, hockey, swimming, shooting, table tennis, taekwondo, triathlon, volleyball, pentathlon, handball, and wrestling associations and organizations. Further, over 50 national sports organizations (non-Olympic) headquarter in Colorado Springs. These include the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Sports Incubator, a various non-Olympic Sports (such as USA Ultimate), and more.

Taking things to the next level

Despite all the Olympic organizations coming to the city over the years critical mass was not achieved to make any significant difference to the cities journey and potencial global impact. As the new millennium came around, city leaders were still seeking the answer, — how to make a city that lives up to its founder’s promise. Several small acts of real estate movements over the years lead to the City for Champions idea. A collection of four unique projects consisting of five distinct and extraordinary venues. Together, the City for Champions projects adds dimension, energy, and economic vitality to the Colorado Springs region. The city for Champions builds upon Colorado Springs’ history as a health destination, a training ground for servicemen and women, and a sports and fitness hub by advancing a collection of new attractions unique in Colorado — and in some cases, the country. City of champions along with the establisghment of a sister city relathionship with the birthplace of the Olympics in 2014 where one of the main drivers and catalists for the city to designate itself — Olympic City USA.

Stepping Into the Future

Like so many cities in the US, the city’s rapid expansion lead to urban sprawl leaving the center of the city at best, unattractive for businesses, people, and visitors. Want to have a thriving city? History shows us since ancient time that cities with strong centers are poised to stand the test of time. Therefore a vital city center, or as we call it, Downtown, is essential. But what exactly is a downtown? The term is referred to as a city’s commercial, cultural, historical, political, and geographic heart and is often synonymous with its central business district. It is marked by a cluster of tall buildings, cultural institutions, and the convergence of rail transit and bus lines.

Colorado Springs, unlike other cities, never really had strong Downtown after the great depression in the 30s. There was no single structure or landmark that could serve as a catalyst for a real estate renaissance like nearby Denver had, for example, Union Stations. Therefore, city leaders had to make one from scratch. This is where the Olympic museum concept comes into the city plan as the main point of attraction for the city, serving multiple purposes beyond its primary goal of sharing Olympic and Paralympic stories that move us.

In 2018 the Olympic museum broke ground and in a way making history by being possibly the only museum in the world to serve as the main anchor for the business acceleration of a city. But the impact of the Olympic musuem is even more significant than locals can fathom. The Olympic movement has always been a trendsetter for best practices on sports and culture around the world. Now the Olympic museum and its educational outreach programs can serve as faithful ambassadors reaching a broader public and fulfilling the intent — of the modern Olympic Games founders-— for a society that embraces Olympic and Paralympic values.

Deep Dive

Olympic City USA Downtown is an emerging urban district today. It is poised to become one of regions most desirable urban neighborhood in the coming decades. The estimated economic activity and investment occurring in Downtown are estimated at approximately $2 to 3billion dollars in the development of 5.2 million square feet, including residential, retail, hospitality, and commercial uses. Economic forecasts show a near-term increase of jobs, annual employment output between $30 to $40million, and an increase of over $150 million in assessed property value as the district develops, anchored by the United States Olympic and Paralympic Museum.

A first of its kind, the museum will itself be a hub of cutting-edge technology. The museum will consistently activate space with strong visuals and motion through LED video displays, RFID-controlled images, individualized video experiences, interactive media stations to allow in-depth learning and integration of AI and holographic technologies. Seamless technological integration into the surrounding district will create a cohesive and one-of-a-kind experience for visitors.

Image by Diller Scofidio + Renfro

The overall real estate project will include a sleek pedestrian bridge spanning active freight rail lines to connect the Downtown district to America the Beautiful Park directly. City leaders commiteed to a long term vision and determined to raise the bar seeked the best achitectural firms in the country that would help them design a state of the art downtown.

One of these architects offices was the legendary office of Diller Scofidio + Renfro or otherwise knows as DS+R.

Image by Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Per the company’s website, DS+R was founded in 1981, Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) as a design studio whose practice spans the fields of architecture, urban design, installation art, multi-media performance, digital media, and print.

Image by Diller Scofidio + Renfro

With a focus on cultural and civic projects, DS+R’s work addresses the changing role of institutions and the future of cities. DS+R’s cross genre work has been distinguished with TIME’s “100 Most Influential People” list and the first grant awarded in the field of architecture from the MacArthur Foundation, which identified Diller and Scofidio as, “architects who have created an alternative form of architectural practice that unites design, performance, and electronic media with cultural and architectural theory and criticism. Their work explores how space functions in our culture and illustrates that architecture, when understood as the physical manifestation of social relationships, is everywhere, not just in buildings.”

Based on a recent blog post by the bridges architects — Diller Scofidio + Renfro— the bridge’s generous width safely accommodates pedestrians and cyclists alike.

Image by Diller Scofidio + Renfro

At it’s widest point, an oculus at either side of the bridge frames the museum and downtown to the east, or a platform for trainspotting below and a distinct look out to the Rock Mountain to the west.

Image by Diller Scofidio + Renfro

In the evenings, lighting along the bridge will trace a single vector from one side of the tracks to the other, giving a sense of speed and motion while providing illumination for pedestrians and cyclists. The critical linkage from Downtown to America the Beautiful Park will make this recreational area much more accessible to citizens and visitors year-round. In addition, a new 10,000-seat outdoor stadium for the city’s professional soccer team exists immediately south of the museum, further revitalizing the area.

Today, Olympic City USA is where a timeless culture of achievement and a spirit of national pride and dedication sit effortlessly beside awe-inspiring beauty and unparalleled natural scenery. “Olympic City USA is designed to be a city that reflects its majestic landscapes and champions its ideals through renowned culture, vibrant neighborhoods, strong connections, unique urban places, and a thriving economy.” The city’s vision to carry forward the spirit of the Olympic & Paralympic movement and to become a city that matches its scenery by effectively, efficiently, courteously, and wisely managing its limited resources, ultimately setting an example to the world.

A framework for future cities

How can city leaders of tomorrow bring it all together? The following points illustrate roughly what steps Olympic City USA toke to realize its vision over the past decades. These points may also serve as — a best practices — roadmap for other cities around the world.

  • Frequently re-imagine a city’s vision, function, use and promise.
  • Set in place city business ambassadors in the form of established public/private organizations that can support incremental business growth, such as a downtown partnership or a chamber of commerce focused on attracting large and mid-size employers.
  • Assemble a dedicated small team from various city sectors to lead all efforts and coordinate multiple stakeholders’ meetings, workshops, and planning sessions.
  • Mobilize robust local government infrastructures while aligning government officials with the cities long term plan for growth,
  • Developing a recognizable City brand that all can stand by
  • Establishing local, state, national, and international partnerships.
  • If the downtown residential density is low, support the construction of new residential units by appealing to residents seeking smart, connected, sustainable urban living in the center of the city.
Photo by Miguel Alejandro García Bilbao on Unsplash
  • Prepare the city to anticipate shifts in public transit and bike-sharing modalities.
  • Balance sustainable urban mobility with first and last-mile connections. Integration of autonomous shuttles that will connect Downtown to critical locations.
  • Demonstrate a measurable reduction of streetlight energy usage.
  • Work on new parking systems and rethink the use of cars for parking, pick up, and drop-offs in the area.
  • Choose long term impact central city anchors that draw people together.
  • Improve safety by introducing plans that will be reducing crime rates.
  • Integrate charities and other homeless services with the overall city planning.
  • Set a plan to deal with civic waste reduction, improved sorting, and measurement of landfill diversion for public waste collection.
  • Plan for easy access to fresh foods, and restaurants
  • Side with goals that intend to implement a variety of housing and office types of different sizes and levels of affordability so that people can live closer to where they work and do not need long commutes
  • Work with city planners, architects, and designers from other cities to achieve diversity of thought constantly.
  • Air on the side of urban plans that can stand aesthetically the test of time and that public spaces will require minimum maintenance.

For cities like Olympic City USA that would like to have sports as their primary business theme driver, consider the following:

  • Seek long-term Public-Private-Partnerships that will enable the city to diversify capital sources needed to support public and private sport-related infrastructures.
  • Make sure to understand the connections that drive sports in all forms, such as events, attractions, training, and science. All stakeholders in a sport-centric city must be aware that the public spaces and workplaces can be a tool to encourage connections between all involved parties to foster further collaborative growth.
  • Rethink city spaces and environments through the prism of equity and multigenerational diversity. Today’s older adults are seeking residential environments that are mixed-use, intergenerational, and offer a plethora of experience. Many choose to continue living in urban settings, which are very different from the freestanding and purpose-built suburban facilities embraced by previous generations. Cities and infrastructure must accommodate and encourage a thriving lifestyle for every resident. In terms of equity and diversity in public spaces, the US Olympic & Paralympic Museum is a great case study for any city as it is accessible by anyone, and anyone can interact with its exhibits.
  • Keep in mind, sports cities cannot be sports cities if they do not focus on the infrastructure supporting wellness in multiple forms. The health of environments will be a key element for recruitment and retention of the future workforce.
  • Make part of your city’s brand to go for environmental stewardship. Olympic City USA wanted to attract businesses that advance human health and well-being in some way.
  • Take to heart that evidence-based research suggests that exposure to natural light and air, as well as views of nature, have positive health outcomes, from reducing stress to lowering blood pressure. All future city facilities, public and private buildings will improve access to clean air by increasing the quantity and quality of filtered air while reinforcing the importance of operable windows. Extending gardens into building designs, adding balconies into unit designs, and recognizing the full sensory benefits of nature is key.
  • Devote the time to develop the opportunities to define and expand private and semi-private spaces, distributing amenities closer to residential units, revisiting building delivery strategies, and reimagining corridors as spaces.
  • Embrace Technology. “Intelligent” Technology, such as sensors, wearables, voice activation computers, mobile apps, and more, are in place or are planned to be in place to educate and assist people in living independently the high levels of aesthetic and performance quality, they’ve come to expect. Technology helps people become active participants in their health and physical environment.
  • In terms of workspace, Olympic City USA embraced the notions that work and place have become uncoupled, redefining the office as the best place to bring people together — especially for those whose jobs rely on in-person collaboration or specific spaces or shared resources.
  • Set in place new technology and policies that will allow flexible and virtual work to thrive while also supporting equitable and inclusive experiences. At Olympic City USA for example, office buildings will be built into trophy-class office spaces. With over-cladding that will give the fenestration a more elegant and monumental proportion, the new expansion floors and occupied penthouse will assert the building’s identity and capitalize on the location’s greatest asset: the views to the Rocky Mountains.
Image by Diller Scofidio + Renfro
  • Integrate the ground floor into the community. All stakeholders must understand that buildings will need to expand their definition of “ROI” and become invested neighbors, working together with local governing agencies to make the buildings in their communities active, self-supporting, and inviting. Note, the streetscapes of Olympic City USA are designed to evolve into building lobbies with front porches, all offering something unique to support a community that is invested in its success.
  • Ensure that early on your city leaders realize the need for acceleration of micro-mobility, delivery services, and electric vehicles that have created the need to offset traditional parking with bike and scooter depots, shower or locker room facilities, and charging infrastructure. Therefore, personal devices were considered in the thought process to replace building ID, security card, and elevator access systems. Tenants understand that their devices will be integrated into the environment when they come to Olympic City USA and enable them to reserve amenities, conference space, micro-mobility valets, and other services.
  • Follow the example of Olympic City USA that wanted to make a statement of a world-class cultural hub and moves away from the outdated notions that city centers are mainly transactional hubs. Public spaces play a central role in strengthening customer engagement and building a platform for belonging. City offering should be designed to have a curated, unexpected, and unique mix of tenants and offerings that feels specifically local. In the case of Olympic City USA, the city partnered with local creatives and community leaders to curate public space programming. In the case of Olympic City USA, its downtown Partnership took the lead with remarkable results.
  • Express purpose through place while embracing the human element. As today’s consumers are driven by purpose and the belief that what a brand stands for is more important than what they sell. The city as a brand strived to build communities; give brand enthusiasts a prominent voice; and create branded environments that communicate the brand’s core values, beliefs, and mission to customers. At Olympic City USA, Health and well-being will become the standard of a guest visit. By supporting food, exercise, beauty, and spirituality to model healthier lifestyles and promote well-being, properties throughout the city create higher value for time-strapped guests.
  • Take a closer look to what hospitality is all about. Hospitality has always been a key strategic element for the Olympic movement; thus, at Olympic City USA, all real estate hospitality plans embrace new ways to deliver personalized guests experiences. Room service at hotels in the city takes a whole new meaning. With a heightened focus on health, room service is rethought into a wellness service that provides access to healthy produce and locally sourced ingredients. Further, implementing contactless technologies, such as self-service check-in, mobile room keys, and touchless faucets for a higher standard of cleanliness. Plan for hotels to position hospitality properties as remote offices or as virtual event hosts. Videoconferencing suites with purposeful lighting, green screens, audio-visual infrastructure, and digitally fluent concierges are the new differentiators.
  • Explore the plethora of digital technologies, that hotels can utilize to customize guest experience — from preset arrival lighting, music, and room configuration to content based on past behaviors or preferences. Digital experiences will allow guests to monitor and adjust their sound, temperature, and ventilation levels while aiding communication between guests and hotel operators for room service and amenities reservations.
  • Reimagine retail. As retailers can no longer focus solely on delivering an experience. For example, retail stores at Olympic City USA are designed to function as places that bring people together and forge connections. Spaces are designed to be more flexible and adaptable to allow seasonal trend changes without incurring significant capital expenditures.

Coming Full Circle

Through the ages, people yearn towards sports as a community experience that offers inclusivity, and accessible pastime that unites their passion, sparks conversations, and leaves lasting memories. Olympic City USA venues prioritize comfort and safety while enhancing the visitors and fan experience.

Image by Diller Scofidio + Renfro

The city’s new amenities strike a balance between cost and value in innovative ways. Screening and cleaning protocols, touchless entry and retail experiences, and open concourses actively reduce risks for fans in the post-covid era. Signage are designed to be all about performance as it can about wayfinding. At Olympic City USA, local vendors that design and produce such signing locally have made a big difference in customizing and adapting such signage to local needs with quick delivery windows. Digital Experience Design integrations throughout the city offer a flexible take on how surfaces can share information, promote sponsors, or set a mood.

Lastly, the question everyone asks is how do we pays for all this? What are the capital stacks that deliver ROI to all invested stakeholders? At Olympic City USA, these questions always came before deploying ambitious plans. It is true, the cost model sporting focus venues have changed. Sports-anchored districts create an opportunity to extend the guest experience and game day profits beyond the game. A city and district approach can reach a variety of visitors with different interests, creating multiple potential revenue streams.

Image by Diller Scofidio + Renfro

These one-of-kind sport-theme footprints of Olympic City USA coupled with financially sound capital stacks and urban planning extend the city brand beyond its main downtown venues creating opportunities to draw employers, residents, and visitors in the years to come

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