Dazed travels to Portland, Oregon to tour Nike’s new million-square-foot building, located amid wetlands inhabited by beavers. Design Director John Hoke reflects on his inspiration, innovation and the future of space
I stand on the fourth floor of Nike’s new Serena Williams building, watching a beaver in the wetlands below swim upstream, presumably to or from its lovely little dam. I first thought it was an alligator, not knowing the flora and fauna of Oregon, but was kindly corrected by a Nike employee, who didn’t laugh of my ignorance. The location of the buildings, in Beaverton, part of Portland, Oregon, really should have been a clue.
This building, which covers one million square feet (the equivalentnt of 140 full-size tennis courts) of Nike’s global headquarters, is the brand’s new home for product creation or “temple of creativity”, to use the words of Nike’s design director, John Hoke. While the massive Lebron James Building across the 12,000-employee campus is all about innovation, knowledge, and research, this building is all about expression, imagination, and creativity. creativity ; turn all that function into form.
As much of the building is a temple to creativity, it is also a temple to its namesake, Serena Williams, aka the greatest tennis player of all time. Tributes or “Easter eggs” to Williams are found throughout the building – some hidden away and some in plain sight. From the art of oneathlete who was tasked with populating space, by a host of female artists including Jenny Sabin, Lady Pink, Jordan Moss, Kelly Anna; to the number of columns in the atrium that reflect the nshadow of Grand Slam singles titles she has won (a whopping 23). Even the the theater seats feature a number placed on a rose-shaped emblem, her favorite flower and the traditional bouquet given to the winners of Wimbledon.
As the healthy population of large semi-aquatic rodents and the wetlands they live in, which Nike has restored, indicate, sustainability is at the heart of this building – both the structure itself and the products that will be created. inside. The building sits above these wet areas, with bridges crossing its wetter parts, and the trees tucked up to the windows, allowing light and nature to seep into this space. There are even gardens within the complex; one, with mounds of earth, is inspired by the lush Pacific temperate rainforests of western North America, while another is filled with plants grown for dyes, encouraging the thousands of designers who will work in the building to envision the journey of the “soil put on”. In addition, it is equipped with rainwater harvesting systems and 648 solar panels.
When I speak to Seana Hannah, Nike Vice President, NXT Sustainable Innovation, during my visit, she reiterates how sustainability is now at the heart of the brand. “It’s in everything we do,” she says. “So it’s no surprise that the building we’re in has the same approach we have inside the building when we’re working and thinking about sustainability all the time. And we have very close relationships with the partner factories we work with. They have set their own very aggressive targets, we are working hand in hand with them. We all care about making better decisions, having less waste and simply reducing our carbon footprint.
I wondered how it worked, when the main problem with fashion and sustainability is our addiction to consumerism – our never-ending, ever-encouraged desire to buy more stuff. How do you help the planet while continuing to create products and encourage people to consume them? Hannah said they work in two ways: first, with sustainability in mind; and second, circularity – so that the product lasts a long time, then the parts and parts it is made on live in a different form. “WWhen someone is done loving the product, can we fix it? Can we take it back, clean it and sell it at a reduced price? How many lives can he have?” she says. “At some point, do we grind it? Then it goes into a Space Hippie [which is a kind of trainer, for the trainer illiterate] or go to a running track or basketball court. We try to figure out how to make the product last for a long time and then how to make its parts and pieces live. That’s a good answer. Our addiction to consumption is not likely to change any time soon, but sustainability and circularity, especially when embraced by a brand operating at the scale of Nike, are genuine and viable solutions.
Nike seems determined to improve the future of the planet and the future of sport and sportswear. Spending a day in his world, I was bombarded with Nikeisms, such as “it’s okay to fail”, “temporary is fine” (the idea that you always have to innovate) and “if you have a body, you are an athlete” – the latter being a comfort to this terminally unsportsmanlike writer. Even their language around sport – i.e. “an invitation” and “a universal language” – you made him think of it less in a literal way, some sort of EP, and more as an inextricable part of human expression, which it obviously is.
Here, as the Serena Williams Building finally opens its doors, John Hoke discusses his vision and some of the ways Nike is working to create a better world.
What was the vision for this building?
John Hoke: It was about creating a world-class future product creation center, very focused on developing and growing that imagination muscle for the company… You’re sitting in a million square feet of design sustainable. Right off the bat, it’s super ambitious.
Obviously, our muse was Serena Williams, the building’s namesake. She took an active role in creating a highly collaborative and highly creative space, which I think we did. We took a million square feet and broke it down into a series of neighborhoods. I’m talking about interior urbanism: every space is different, and right now it’s a vessel without people; when people come, they build culture in the community.
This building is built for the next 50 years; it is designed to be a catalyst for the best we can do, the best creativity.
This may seem like an obvious question, but why Serena?
John Hoke: He’s an incredible human being and one of our favorite athletes because of his drive, his passion, his interests, his ambitions. She is a provocateur and an agency of change, and this building represents an agency of change – for the sport. Think of the boundaries she broke; think of how she changed the game of tennis, permanently; the impact she has had on countless young girls who are thinking about how to play sports, no matter where they come from. His journey is a repeatable and inspiring journey for many.
What did his involvement look like, in practical terms?
John Hoke: She came to her for design reviews, looked at models and drawings. I remembered several times being with her on a golf cart, driving through the woods, through the carcass of the building, to give her a sense of the scale of the building. It was a bit overwhelming for her and emotional to see him come to life.
We hid things in the building, which became the Easter egg. ‘So where is this part of his journey? What is that part of his life story that can inspire more? It became quite fun to do with her too. There are countless things hidden throughout the building.
You said this building is a temple to creativity, but it also feels like a temple to it.
John Hoke: It’s a tribute to her, yes. An edifice to her progression and the progression of the sport, the agency of change she had on and off the tennis court. And that, in many ways, is the tribute.
How did she react when she saw all this?
John Hoke: I think she was taken aback, upset, emotionally, because I think that’s a real reflection of her impact on our business and how she’s worked with us as an athlete, clearly, but also as an artist in her own right and a lawyer. for change. So I think it’s caught up with her and she’s incredibly proud. But like any great human, I think she just wants to make an impact. She wants to do more, to impact more people’s lives. And that’s what we love about her.
How does all of this relate to your vision for the future of sport?
John Hoke: Well, I think the sport continues. Sport and athletics are integral to the human experience and the human condition. move our bodies, feel our heartbeat, our sweat. And sport offers this unique vehicle for finding your best, challenging yourself, building relationships with others, and working as a team. All of this will continue as we invite more and more people on the planet to experience the power and potential of sport through their own movement and their own personal bests.
What are some of the most exciting spaces you are innovating in, for you personally?
John Hoke: One is moving the company towards circularity, which is starting to think about how materials are reclaimed and reinvented. In the future, single-use materials will be heinous, okay, we are able to capture and invigorate them, so we focus more on restoring the world around us. And to use this notion of regenerating materials as the cornerstone of the future of our product. I think it’s inevitable. And I think that’s not a compromise for the product, it’s the opposite. It is a catalyst for better design and better change.
So the more emerging technologies that we see in the digital world – 3D and 4D development, computer design, artificial intelligence – these things working together in creative quantum ways, will be really cool for us to find new physical expressions, new performance, new opportunities, new vocabularies. And this notion of no latency: designers become creators, not waiting to work through a daisy chain of events. I think these things are going to be catalytic stepping stones to making the world a better place through the power of design.