United States Air Force Academy
To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the U.S. Air Force Academy, we worked with the National Park Service and the Organization of American Historians to write the nomination to designate the superb Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill-designed Cadet Area as a National Historic Landmark.
Born in the first decade of the Cold War, the United States Air Force Academy provided the new military service with a trained and educated officer corps at a time when national policy placed unprecedented emphasis on air power. Its campus, set in magnificent surroundings at the foot of the Rampart Range in Colorado, ranks among the finest examples of modern movement architecture commissioned by federal agencies during the post-World War II era.
Following World War II, the United States entered into a forty-five year confrontation with the Soviet Union known as the Cold War. Although it was the newest service, the Air Force emerged as the nation’s primary military arm, resulting in a major expansion of its ranks. The new service required an influx of officers, leading to the establishment of the United States Air Force Academy. In the face of technological advances, including a burgeoning nuclear arsenal, the new service academy educated those officers for the increasingly complex demands of military leadership. In addition, it helped to define the Air Force's identity as distinct from the Army and Navy.
Its campus, designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), broke from the traditions of West Point and Annapolis with its architectural vocabulary to become “the first U.S. national shrine to be designed in the modern style,” according to Architectural Forum. Its buildings stirred a national debate in Congress, professional journals, and the popular media during the early years of the Cold War. In a survey of federally-built architecture, Lois Craig declared, “Perhaps no architectural debate over government buildings in the 1950s equaled the discussion about the design of the new U.S. Air Force Academy.” The responses encapsulate many of the significant issues surrounding architecture in the postwar era.
Read the complete NHL Nomination.
The National Park Service developed a Teaching with Historic Places lesson plan for the U. S. Air Force Academy, based on our NHL nomination.