Creating an accessible center for America’s veterans

March 30, 2021

For more than a century, Syracuse University has been empowering and supporting those who’ve served in defense of the nation. The new Daniel and Gayle D’Aniello Building will be home to the work done by the National Veterans Resource Center (NVRC) and is testament to their ongoing commitment to veterans and military-connected students. It represents an unprecedented commitment by Syracuse University to cultivate and lead innovative academic, government, and community collaborations, with the aim of advancing the social, economic, and wellness concerns of veterans and military families.

Jules Lauve, project manager, explains how this facility will serve as the center of veteran life, not just on campus, but also within the local community and across Central New York. “This is a really important addition to the campus—it’ll be a true community gathering space, offering programming, training, events, and other academic and vocational initiatives.”

The design team for the facility, led by SHoP Architects, knew that creating an accessible environment for the users of this facility would be paramount to its success. Together, we designed the entire building to be accessible and inclusive for its users and the community. Theatre Projects collaborated with SHoP Architects on the design and technology for the auditorium and rooftop parade grounds. And Andy Smith from Boyce Nemic Designs worked as a sub-consultant for Theatre Projects on the audiovisual and technology systems in the building.

The heart of the building is a 938-seat auditorium designed for TED talks, lectures, presentations, and military band performances. Accessible seating positions have been designed to be an integral part of the room allowing for seating in a variety of locations in the space—the majority of the front row, cross-aisle, and the back row of the parterre all have seats that can be removed and all box seats on both levels are completely wheelchair accessible. We included more than double the required number of designated aisle seats (seats located on the aisle, where the arms flip up to provide unimpeded access to the seat) in both the orchestra and balcony levels. There’s also increased space between seating rows to allow people with ambulatory disabilities to move around more easily as well as 30-inch bariatric seating to accommodate patrons who need a little extra space while they’re seated. Circulation between the two levels in the room is provided via ramps and elevators (with additional lobby space at the primary access points to the balcony). And there are also quiet spaces available so those with sensory sensitivities to light, sound, or crowds can participate in events in a more comfortable environment.

But the accessibility of the venue isn’t limited to room layout and design. Technology is used to support and enhance the user experience, too—from an assistive listening system to two CART (Communication Access Real-time Translation) displays flanking the performance area that provide live captioning at events for deaf and hard-of-hearing attendees. Between the two CART displays is a 32’ x 18’ self-luminous LED video wall behind the presenter platform that is unaffected by the level of light in the room, so even with the lights on full, the content on the screen is vibrant and saturated.

We also designed an electronic architecture system to add versatility within the auditorium for different event types. The client anticipated that some events, such as veteran ceremonies, would need to be recorded and broadcast for later viewing, so there was an emphasis on video production capabilities as well as consideration for accommodating outside broadcasters. We provided a permanent wiring solution to allow planned positions to connect with the loading dock and outside broadcasting vans as well as a cable pass system to enable broadcasters to provide their own, temporary wiring.

With no attic space or catwalks for front-of-house lighting positions, we designed two self-climbing truss that allow easy maintenance access to the lighting fixtures by lowering them to the floor. Equipment designer, Andrew Hagan, says “we’ve used the self-climbing truss solution before in a number of our projects, but these were particularly unique because they’re curved (and not straight!) to integrate into the architecture of the ceiling—so not only are they functional, they also look really good!”

Creating an accessible center for America’s veterans
Credit: James Ewing / JBSA
Creating an accessible center for America’s veterans
Credit: James Ewing / JBSA
Creating an accessible center for America’s veterans
Credit: James Ewing / JBSA
Creating an accessible center for America’s veterans
Credit: James Ewing / JBSA