Nike World Headquarters’ New Serena Willams Building Is a Designer’s Utopia
The year 2022 marks a new beginning for Nike. Come May, the sportswear giant will celebrate its 50th anniversary, a major milestone by any metric.
To add to the celebration, Nike is unveiling a swanky new property at the brand’s World Headquarters. “We’ve been waiting for two years to bring staff [and] teams back into this campus. I can’t wait to see what’s gonna happen,” John Hoke says, sitting in the new building’s two-story auditorium. The Nike Chief Design officer is visibly excited. “This room is called Olympia,” he exclaims. The one million square-foot, 180-feet tall structure is dedicated to none other than Serena Williams. For those of you who don’t know, Olympia is the name of her daughter.
Built by Portland-based architecture firm Skylab in collaboration with Mark Parker, the Serena Williams building follows that of LeBron James which was unveiled last fall. The “LeBron James [building] is the innovation center for research – it’s about deep science, everything we can learn about athletes, and what these bodies need: functionality, biomechanics, utility,” Hoke explains. The “Serena Williams [building] is about creativity, beauty. [It’s] a hub of imagination.”
“Whether we’re designing a shoe or a million-square-foot building, we always begin by listening to the voice of the athlete,” Hoke tells us. “Our goal is to deliver innovation and inspiration to all the world’s athletes – and if you have a body, you’re an athlete.”
Right away, the Serena Williams building is impressive from the outside. It’s almost daunting to take it all in, so expansive that it fits three full Portland city blocks. What used to be a barren parking lot now stands as the highest structure in all of Beaverton, just reaching Portland’s legal limit. The black and slate gray facade has a sleek, armor-like quality, inspired by Serena Williams’ strength as one of the most elite athletes of the world.
As home to Nike’s product creation teams, the SW building will host a staggering 1,000 employees across the brand’s Men’s, Women’s, and Kids departments. Not only is it Nike’s largest office building to date, it’s the first time in three decades that this many creatives will be housed under one roof. “The vision we have for our teams across design and creativity is to build a diverse future,” says Jarvis Sam, Nike’s VP of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion. “The more designers you have around the table, the more empathy, and the more problems and solutions get uncovered.”
Hoke agrees: “No one particular designer can solve all the problems. The problem sets are too big [and] rich. We demand collaboration because it helps us get to group genius.”
The construction and layout of the expansive space cater to this vision for diversity and collaboration. “The way the building’s been designed, it’s very porous. There [are] lots of penetration between floors,” Hoke says, referring to the open staircases that encourage seamless flow. “The team designed a series of neighborhoods – there’s an interesting interior urbanism.”
According to Jeff Kovel, principal at Skylab, the building’s floor plan emulates actual urban planning with passageways intersecting, overlapping, and connecting larger branches of towers. In this way, the SW building has the potential to really become its own mini city.
In addition to offices, studios, four restaurants (including the Wimbledon restaurant which boasts the highest observation deck in Washington County), the building also features a design library with an extensive fabric archive for Nike’s Color and Material design teams. To design the most performance-enhancing product that’s also easy on the eye, swatches are stored in a room with multiple light settings that can emulate different consumer conditions in experiencing color.
With a seemingly endless curation of original commissioned artwork all throughout, and custom furniture, light fixtures, and carpeting sourced from Milan, it might be easy to dismiss the building as merely ostentatious. But as Nike assures, its newest architectural feat pushes the limits of how design can align with sustainability. “We don’t view sustainability as a compromise in any way,” Hoke stresses. Built with 20% recycled material, the SW building is also LEED Platinum-certified, a more than impressive feat for a construction of this scale.
The building also preserves the Pacific Northwest rainforest around it, not only for the sake of sustainability, but as a way for employees to take advantage of nature. Working with landscape architects Place, Nike made sure to work around the wetlands and thousands of native plant species, and actually incorporated them into the workings of the structure. In a garden situated at the center of the building, Nike designers will pick the seeds of plants to grow, and convert their crop into color dyes.
From the grand scale and expansiveness of the space down to the design details and focus on sustainability, Nike’s new Serena Williams building pushes the boundaries of architecture while perfectly embodying the namesake athlete’s power and legacy. Like it did for the last half century, the brand will continue to drive innovation and creativity forward, now accelerated by its new “hub of imagination.”
“We are still a work in progress.” Hoke says. “The best is yet to come.”