by Anmol AhujaNov 26, 2021
Inside the 286-acre campus of the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, Seattle-based architectural practice Olsun Kundig has designed the LeBron James Innovation Center as the core facility for the company’s continuous breakthrough in sports research and development. The 700,000 sq ft building is named after the famous Los Angeles Lakers player LeBron James who signed a lifetime contract with Nike in 2016, following a seven-year endorsement deal made in 2003 when he was 18.
Designed as ‘a high functioning workshop where the latest innovation in sport technology can be designed, built, tested and refined’, a key feature of the project is the Nike Sport Research Lab which occupies the cantilevered top floor of the concrete and metal finished building. To foster cross-pollination of ideas, the centre brings together over 300 staff members from the various innovation teams at Nike, who were previously working at different locations within the headquarters. Led by partner Tom Kundig, the architecture of the centre houses design studios, offices and meeting spaces, prototyping labs, and an indoor research facility, and is a melting pot attracting biomechanics researchers, robotics experts, and computational designers.
Designed to embody the concept of speed and to create a space where listening to the voice of an athlete is made tangible, the aim behind the building’s establishment has been ‘to understand unique needs and opportunities, contextualise challenges, and generate breakthroughs across the spectrum of play and movement in a variety of environments’.
Upon entering the building, one arrives at an airy, four storey atrium, flanked by studios and work spaces on all sides and a ribbon like staircase bridging the different levels. Rising 28 metres, the atrium serves as the heart of the building and boasts a transparent, open-ended layout where the surrounding spaces, though seamlessly interconnected, remain characteristically independent. Entered via several doorways leading into the atrium, the key entry to the centre opens into a shoebox shaped space where Nike’s LeBron James footwear is showcased.
“Dedicated spaces for chance interaction and co-working punctuate the atrium, showcasing these activities to encourage a culture of participation. The atrium also provides staff and guests an intuitive system for wayfinding throughout the building,” says the architects at Olsun Kundig in a press release.
The uppermost level of the facility constitutes a 50ft cantilevered volume occupied by the Nike Sport Research Lab. Wrapped in a distinguished concrete waffle slab base and a mega truss structure and featuring a track, a full-sized basketball court and partial soccer pitch designed ‘in service to capture athletes in motion at full speed’, the space’s functioning is to collate and analyse the performance data of athletes. The volume is also connected to the centre’s signature 100-meter, 15.63% incline ramp positioned on the building's exterior.
"The rawness of the building," explain the architects at Olsun Kundig, "is tempered by warm, high-touch moments that communicate brand stories of determination, hard work, focus, and trial and error in pursuit of athletic goals. Environmental graphics throughout the building tell the story of Nike’s legacy of innovation, while the building’s public spaces highlight the athletic contributions of LeBron James. A regulation basketball hoop in the lobby pairs with a heat map of James’s career, where small circles on the floor mark every shot taken by James – both hits and misses – on his journey to 30,000 points."
On the development of the centre after his name, LeBron James shares his thoughts in an official press release, “Over the course of my career and my time here at Nike, for all of this to come together is surreal. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to me, but I’m definitely honoured. Having my name on the Innovation building feels very fitting because I’m always trying to figure out ways I can continue to innovate and continue to break the timeline of what they say is your prime.”