Seattle-based architecture studio Olson Kundig made its reputation with exquisitely detailed private houses and cabins, often deeply embedded in the American landscape, with a strong, post-industrial aesthetic. The studio’s figureheads, Jim Olson and Tom Kundig, who lead the American architecture studio together with four other partners, usually work quasi-independently on different projects. The new LeBron James Innovation Center – named after the LA Lakers player – at Nike’s vast World Headquarters (WHQ) in Beaverton, Oregon, is one of Kundig’s, and features his trademark raw materiality, from its exposed concrete to the rusted metal finishes.

New Innovation Center at Nike World Headquarters (WHQ) by Olson Kundig

Kundig describes the project, located in the north-western corner of Nike’s vast 286-acre corporate site, as a ‘very complex feat of engineering’. Occupying 700,000 sq ft, the Innovation Center brings together Nike’s various innovation teams, previously scattered across the campus. It is here they’ll develop new lines, new materials, and new approaches.

The structure has been designed to minimise any vibration and noise that might affect the data being tracked by these internal labs. In addition to expansive design studios and meeting rooms, the centre also contains prototyping labs, a large indoor research hub, sporting facilities, and an outdoor running track built on a 15-degree incline. 

‘Nike’s underlying agenda of fast’

Nike’s new Innovation Center

Inside, the studios are arranged to look over a four-storey atrium, with a ribbon-like staircase that unites each level. The top floor is occupied by the Nike Sport Research Lab (NSRL), the large volume that cantilevers out over the main entrance. The lab area also contains a full-size basketball court.

‘The “big idea” behind this building is Nike’s underlying agenda of fast,’ says Kundig. ‘Athletics at all levels – and innovation in service of athletes – is about capturing speed, about going fast. The spiritual sense of the building reflects this functional basis as well as the poetic finish of fast.’ Environmental performance is also high on the agenda, with the building becoming the largest in the state to achieve the LEED Platinum rating from the US Green Building Council. 

basketball court at Nike’s Innovation Center

The rough finishes incorporate the visual signs of construction, with simple, elemental materials like concrete and steel paired with plywood for desks and storage. Kundig stresses the importance of material authenticity. ‘This building is designed to be functional, fast-moving, performance-based; we wanted to avoid anything too “precious” and instead selected materials for durability and strength,’ he says.

‘The building celebrates the raw performance of basic materials, much like athletics showcases the raw performance of the human form.’

Innovation Center at Nike World Headquarters (WHQ) by Olson Kundig

Basketball player LeBron James has been with Nike his entire career, signing a $90m contract with the company when he left high school in 2003. The LA Lakers player lends his name to many clothing and shoe lines for the company, and the new building celebrates this long partnership. It joins other structures on the corporate campus named after leading sportspeople, including John McEnroe, Seb Coe, Pete Sampras, Serena Williams, and Mia Hamm.  

The centre also provides a good opportunity for bold sporting hypergraphics, including a visual representation of James’ shots on his journey to amassing 30,000 points, a ‘heat map’ of dots. ‘I’ve always felt the basis of architecture is function-driven with a poetic finish,’ Kundig says, and in this respect the LeBron James Innovation Center is an undeniable high scorer. §

exterior view at Innovation Center at Nike World Headquarters
research at Nike World Headquarters (WHQ)
interior at Innovation Center at Nike World Headquarters (WHQ) by Olson Kundig
interior view of the Innovation Center at Nike World Headquarters (WHQ) by Olson Kundig