The National Veterans Memorial and Museum (NVMM), which opens tomorrow in Columbus, Ohio, is the first of its kind, according to the members of the design and development team that brought the $75 million project to fruition. It is the country’s only military museum not dedicated to one branch of service or one particular conflict, explains Amy Taylor, project manager for the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation and the organization’s COO. Instead, NVMM’s mission is to recognize and celebrate the experience of veterans. “There is no other institution like that,” she says.

First conceived to honor Ohio’s service people, the ambition eventually expanded to include all U.S. veterans. At the core, however, the project’s goals have remained consistent. From the start the hope was to communicate what service means to veterans and their families, explains Brad Cloepfil, founding principal of Allied Works. The Portland, Oregon- and New York-based firm was selected by invited competition to design the museum in 2013.

Cloepfil’s first instinct was to “hold” the ground. The 53,000-square-foot building, which sits on the banks of the Scioto River just opposite downtown, comprises overlapping and exposed reinforced-concrete arches. The muscular elements are curved in plan to create a series of intersecting rings and a spiraling exterior path that leads to a plaza encircled by a swath of green roof. “It is as though we lifted the earth and inserted the museum underneath,” he says.

Inside, where the helical circulation continues, much of the space is devoted to a multimedia exhibition developed by Ralph Appelbaum and Associates and narrated in veterans’ own voices. But visitors can find some relief from the sobering stories with views out through the arches to the surrounding landscape by Philadelphia firm OLIN, as well as to the river and the downtown beyond. In addition to the exhibits, the building contains a variety of spaces for gathering and reflection. Most are defined by the curved poured-in-place structure, which Cloepfil says was tough to engineer and construct. So tough, in fact, that he jokes, “my next five buildings will be plain boxes.”


Stay tuned for expanded coverage of the NVMM, including its structural challenges, online and in the December print issue.