Interview Series: USOPM Exhibit Design Approach
U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum
Carl Rhodes is the exhibit design lead for the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum, opening this summer in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He shares his fondest memories of the project and the influences behind the exhibit design.
What influenced your design approach?
The Museum’s core themes were established at the very beginning of the project; starting with the history of the Olympics, the values, the journey to excellence, and everything it takes to be an Olympic athlete.
Once DS+R became involved and gave form to the vision, I could see how much energy, movement, and dynamism was given to the shape of the building itself. That’s when we knew the museum experience had to match the powerful design of the building itself.
Beyond that, we wanted to make this the most accessible museum in the country—maybe even the whole of North America. Creating a truly inclusive environment became a major driving force in every design decision we made.
From your perspective, what makes USOPM so innovative?
In terms of pure design, the Museum is extremely dynamic and full of energy. It redefines how exhibits and architecture work together. It’s a true narrative arc that carries throughout the building design and down through the exhibits.
At a fundamental level, this is a personal and emotional journey for visitors. Inside, there’s a variety of experiences that engage the visitor in different ways. Using RFID technology, we created an experience that adapts to the visitor and lives in the background of the experience throughout their journey. We did this to create a truly inclusive experience for everyone by allowing people to fully enjoy and participate in ways they would not have been able to otherwise. No matter their physical ability, the museum allows them to have the same experience.
Every gallery has something innovative and new. Whether you look at it from a technology standpoint, a design standpoint, or an experience standpoint, we created something novel within each space. It’s both a collection of one-on-one personal experiences as well as a variety of collective experiences—just like the Olympic team versus the individual athlete.
What is your favorite moment in the museum?
Leaving Parade of Nations, you walk down a ramp—it’s a narrow, compressed space—then, turn the corner, and the entire Summer Games gallery reveals itself. From a design standpoint, it’s my favorite reveal. You get a sense of something powerful.
The design of this gallery was inspired by the entrance to a stadium, from the athlete’s perspective. It’s not a literal translation, but it’s a feeling that we wanted to capture in the space.
What are your best memories working on this project?
My best memory was seeing Olympic and Paralympic athletes come out and test the interactive prototypes for the first time. After so much time planning to create design concepts that enable a truly inclusive experience, we finally got to see them tested by real Paralympic athletes. With the various disabilities represented, to see them engage and excited to participate… That’s when we knew we were doing something truly unique and meaningful.
All in all, there were so many collaborative meetings with our consultants. It was such a great working relationship between all of us. We were able to toss ideas back and forth in ways that really evolved the experience, way beyond where it started. It makes such a difference to have such a great group of talented people working together.
While positioned as a global stage, the Olympics have provided a context for outstanding achievements for the United…