Though Serena Williams has cemented her greatest-of-all-time legacy with the unprecedented record she has earned on the tennis court, winning so far 23 Grand Slam singles titles, her name will now also be associated with an architectural legacy. This week, Nike will open the Serena Williams Building on its Nike World Headquarters (NWH) campus in Beaverton, Oregon. For the design of its newest building, Nike turned to Skylab, a Portland-based firm that worked in collaboration with Mark Parker, a former longtime Nike CEO and the current executive chairman of Nike, Inc.
At one-million-square-feet (roughly the size of 140 full-size tennis courts), the new building is the largest at NWH. The three wings that comprise much of the building are linked by a 10-level tower, making it the tallest on campus as well. This building continues the brand’s expansion into the future. Nike is in the midst of a string of impressive architectural endeavors, including the new Olson Kundig–designed LeBron James Innovation Center, a state-of-the-art sports research lab.
The Serena Williams Building will allow Nike to carry out design in a fully integrated way. Whereas design teams had previously been housed in different buildings, divided by sport or markets, the Serena Williams Building integrates these teams in a single cohesive environment. “Now, design teams at Nike can consider a product from its initial sketch through product development and into the way it retails in a store, all in a single building,” says Jeff Kovel, the principal design director at Skylab, in a conversation with AD.
Though the building is itself an arresting architectural form, much of its underlying design concept emerged from a subtle objective: To remediate the ecology of its site and the surrounding campus. Working on a site that had been a surface level parking lot, impervious to water, Skylab designed green roofs and a catchment system to minimize stormwater run-off, contributing to Nike’s commitment to make what it calls a “salmon-safe” campus.
One of the site’s edges was bordered by a service road—a workaday corridor trafficked by delivery trucks. Beyond the road was a stretch of wetlands. As Kovel puts it, “We didn’t want to have a backside to this building.” So, to give the building a full 360-degree presence, Skylab buried the service road, creating an underground passageway, and linked the building with the wetlands landscape. Along this new edge, a cafeteria opens to outdoor space, creating an indoor-outdoor shared environment that speaks directly to the design team’s drive to link architecture with nature.
Nike committed the building to an ambitious environmental performance. With its focus on water conservation, efficient building systems, sustainable materials, and wetlands remediation, the Serena Williams Building is designed to be LEED Platinum–certified. But, as Susan Barnes, a principal with Skylab, says, “We looked for ways to be Platinum-plus.”
Photovoltaics on the roofs of the main wings provide energy for the building, but they also accomplish an aesthetic aim. “Because you can look down on the roofs of the wings from the tower, the solar arrays work as a fifth façade, concealing the rooftop mechanical systems,” Kovel explains.
Williams herself was an active collaborator in the building’s design. “She met fairly exhaustively with Nike to download her story,” Barnes says. The design team used this biographical background to guide not only the overall vision, but also some of the building’s details. White roses—a favorite of Williams—are planted throughout the main plaza.
Credit: Architectural Digest