Island of Ambition
Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of the original Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, which opened in 1990 as an innovative eight-building corporate campus in a park-like setting of tall trees, green lawns and even its own lake.
The architecture by Thompson Vaivoda (now TVA Architects) was pristine-white eighties-modern in the vein of Richard Meier, but the low-slung buildings yielded to the landscape.
That has decidedly changed, by necessity.
Today, the Nike campus has grown so much that it resembles a small city with scores of buildings spread across hundreds of acres. The bucolic landscape remains, but much of the campus's grassy berm (a kind of gentler version of an ancient city wall) that used to block views from adjacent Beaverton thoroughfares into the campus has given way to ambitious new architecture that soars over it.
The two buildings designed by Portland firm ZGF that opened last fall — the Sebastian Coe Building, with its six stories of offices named for the famed British distance runner, and the Michael Krzyzewski Fitness Center, a combined basketball court and gym named for the legendary Duke basketball coach — speak to what a juggernaut Nike has become.
Literally black contrasting with white, these buildings feel less like a continuation of Thompson Vaivoda's Nike headquarters than the palatial buildings ZGF has designed in recent years for the University of Oregon's athletic department in Eugene (but essentially for Nike, as benefactor). They especially resemble 2013's Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. The black glass and metal-clad home of the football program outside Autzen Stadium, which was meant to evoke the armor of a samurai warrior, is at once imposing and exquisite in its detail. Only instead of boxy, like Hatfield-Dowlin, these buildings are more sculpturally angular.
It's probably good that ZGF decided not to riff off the original campus structures because the problem with most corporate campuses is generic sameness. The Coe and Krzyzewski buildings, on the other hand, are unmistakable. Led by design partner Gene Sandoval, ZGF's new work soars upward and outward, cantilevering over the ground as if they can't be contained. Sleek and masculine, these buildings may feel a bit space-age, like vehicles meant for the Empire (or its succeeding First Order) in the Star Wars movie saga. Yet they're teeming with kinetic energy, as if the buildings might actually be vehicles about to leap or blast off.
While the facades may be fashionably dark, the insides are full of sunlight, volume and natural materials like wood. Inside the Coe building's swanky cafeteria, for example, a two-story wall of glass makes inside nearly as sunglasses-worthy as being on the adjacent patio. Shooting baskets in the Krzyzewski building, it feels like a jump shot might just float into the clouds instead of ripping the net.
Impressive as this campus is be architecturally, Nike remains a kind of corporate gated community. The company even once went to court to prevent official annexation into Beaverton proper. Driving around the campus's perimeter, it remains surprising just how little surrounding high-density development Nike's presence has spawned. It's not a city: it's an island.
Even so, more than ever it's quite an impressive island at that.
Brian Libby is a Portland freelance journalist, critic and photographer who has contributed to The New York Times, The Atlantic and Dwell among others. His column, Portland Architecture, can be read monthly in the Business Tribune or Online at: portlandarchitecture.com