Just two years from now, the Air Force Academy will have a new icon as a backdrop for countless photos that are sure to be taken of cadets marching, meeting their families, and posing with friends.
A 105-foot glass skylight compass, jutting at a 39-degree angle toward the North Star, will define the $40 million Center for Character and Leadership Development to be built between Arnold Hall and Harmon Hall, at the west entrance to the terrazzo. The center has been based in the academy's library complex on the terrazzo's east side.
Like so many other insignia in the military, the compass is symbolic. "It points toward Polaris as reminder of the Center's roots in the Academy's unchanging core values: integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do," says the website of a project booster, the Air Force Academy Endowment. (For project renderings, go to ccld.usafa.org/Gallery.aspx.)
Skidmore, Owings and Merrill LLP (SOM), which decades ago designed the academy, including its trademark Cadet Chapel, notes on its website that the glass compass on its new project "precisely aligns cadets inside the Honor Conference Room with the North Star, Polaris, and symbolically serves as an instrument of cadet navigation."
Funded with $27.5 million in tax money and $12 million in donations, the center will have space for the Scholarship Division, Character and Leadership Education Division, Honor Division and Capstone Events Division, the endowment's website says.
SOM's website says the project already has won awards for its design and "green" energy-saving features, and will be finished this year. The endowment's site gives a projected completion date of 2014.
The academy referred questions about the center to the endowment group, which didn't return the Indy's phone calls, so it's unclear when the project will get underway and whether the compass was ordered up as a new icon for the school.
But already, the design world has taken notice. "The tower ..." inhabitat.com, an architectural website notes, "balances the campus's chapel with secular architecture ..."
The chapel, completed in 1963 and listed as a National Historic Landmark in 2004, by its majestic nature has become the signature image of the academy — much to the chagrin of some who have accused the academy of favoring Christianity over other religions, and any religion over no religion at all.
At 150 feet tall, the chapel will tower over the glass compass. Still, the pairing could be "somewhat confusing," according to Beth Gallant, professor of marketing at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and former branding expert for Kraft Foods and Procter & Gamble.
"Will that become the new background? Will it become [an icon], because people will see it as the centerpiece of the academy?" she asks. "I would think it would have to be a well-thought-out strategy, if that is their intention."