Collaboration was the name of the game at the new Nike NYHQ, where Nike creative directors teamed up with STUDIOS Architecture, WSDIA and a group of artists and artisans to create a slam-dunk workplace experience.
Jonathan Jackson is a partner and creative director at WSDIA (New York), which stands for “We Should Do It All,” a statement of the firm’s intent to avoid limiting their expertise as designers and in life. “To immerse oneself in different avenues allows consideration of the otherwise unconsidered,” their website asserts. “It’s this method of working that excites and serves to drive our studio’s practice.”
Jackson is soft spoken and earnest, and his humble gratitude for his five-person firm’s success is apparent. “It took a village to pull this project off—each one of the collaborators was critical to its success,” he says. “And, for our small studio, to navigate something of this size and caliber was big; it made us feel capable of anything.”
The project we discussed, Nike’s New York headquarters, is a panoply of design modalities from custom typographical treatments in wayfinding, to illustrative and sculptural brand manifestations that form a 147,000-square-foot, five-floor monument to brand and sport in the City. The new-construction office space is just one part of Portland, Oregon-based Nike’s larger goal to foster creativity, innovation and deep connections in cities like New York and with its consumer base.
It is clear that Nike is a company that implicitly understands the value of branded experiences, from pop-ups to interactive sports challenges to their own offices. The company employs many talented creative directors, working with equally skilled and carefully selected partners who see their visions for the constantly evolving brand and bring them to life.
It seems almost too perfect for a firm with a name like WSDIA to be partnering with the company that has inspired generations of athletes to “Just Do It,” but their relationship with Nike spans over ten years. WSDIA had been working on various mostly retail design projects spearheaded by Nike’s Senior Creative Director of Global Basketball Michael Spoljaric over the last few years until the Queens native reached out with a unique offer—to collaborate on Nike’s new New York headquarters.
Spoljaric was brought in to lead the internal project team, Workplace Design + Connectivity, which included John Shipman, senior director design, and Jeni Reetz, contract senior brand project manager. The Nike team had been working with STUDIOS Architecture on the design of the new midtown Manhattan structure, a sprawling modern concept supplied with a basketball court, two outdoor terraces, wellness and fitness studios, food and beverage areas, freestyle office and meeting spaces and four VIP showrooms.
The aesthetic is minimalist and stripped-down, employing a palette of grays and concrete that provide the ideal setting for creative wayfinding solutions and multiple brand activations. The Nike team developed themes for each of the five floors of the building—to be explored through the lens of New York City—and Spoljaric prepped the WSDIA team with areas and specific ideas for critical brand “moments” in July 2016.
WSDIA in concert with Spoljaric lead the branding, placemaking and wayfinding efforts within the space. The project spanned a full year, with WSDIA working through the broad range of activations one at a time through overlapping fabrication cycles. Juggling an abundance of collaborators and vendors, schedules and deadlines in conjunction with the steady direction of “imminently creative” leader Spoljaric was challenging but rewarding for Jackson’s team.
The reception desk at Nike NYHQ has the feel of a shoebox: It’s simple, woody and rectangular with an unmistakably simple brand mark. From that point of entry, the branding installations exude escalating visual energy, starting with a series of overhead monitors leading into the main workspaces playing looped animations depicting athletes in motion.
Wayfinding the office is easy: Big bold numbers proclaim your destination in Block Gothic. Alongside, quieter directions are set in a custom typeface developed by WSDIA for the Nike NYHQ project called “Garden.” Garden can be found mostly in the wayfinding above thick underlines, where braille has been applied as a standard across the graphic system, even where it isn’t required by code.
“One of the things we discussed with the Nike team was how to infuse a New York tone of voice in the space,” recounts Jackson. “We developed a quirky sans [serif] that is unique to the brand. It was also a fun surprise for the staff to have a typeface that is special to New York.”
On the second floor, an illustrated tiled wall proudly introduces the theme of the floor: multi-sport. A tile with a comical rendering of Andre Agassi hangs next to one with a tennis ball, an apple with a Nike logo appears as a basketball and another drawing shows Yankees legend Derek Jeter at bat. Local artist Micah drew these and many other various moments in the history of sports in New York onsite on white high-density foam squares that form a large L-shaped wall.
Spoljaric’s plan for the branding activations on the third and fourth floor included two other theme walls, featuring basketball and running, respectively. Spoljaric directed the WSDIA team to break down the sports through icon systems using the lines involved in the sport in an interesting way. Like the multi-sport wall, they are crafted from white high-density foam tiles and feature sports iconography but radiate a radically different mood.
Featured icons range from hoops, nets and balls to stopwatches and trees. The running and basketball walls are striking in their simple lines, but complex in shape thanks to their CNC-milled sculptural forms. The panels where finished with a catalyzed lacquer and suspended on a convenient hanging grid that allows tiles to be replaced with ease.
Acoustic ceiling tiles deployed in various meeting rooms echo the tactility of the theme walls through the tread patterns of various legendary Nike shoes over the years that correspond to the names of the rooms. Miniwiz fabricated the WSDIA-designed pieces from recycled materials.
There certainly is no dearth of non-traditional meeting spaces that encourage creative collaboration in the office, from a kitchen with a Michael Jordan backsplash to a full-on functioning food truck. A retrofitted VW van on the fourth floor serves as “a [very] small conference room” and is complete with a supply of snacks for employees. The VW is a part of Spoljaric’s homage to the company’s humble roots of selling shoes out of a van in Portland.
Adjacent to the VW are open meeting booths. The New York City Marathon was the inspiration for commissioned murals printed on wallpaper substrate that line these communal seating areas. The artist, Carolina Moscoso, is both an illustrator and architect whose devotion to working exclusively in AutoCAD is reflected in the singular look of her drawings and their depth of detail.
Most of the art-based brand activations are commissioned works, from the enormous bark logo beside the basketball court, carved by prop artist Alisa Keegan, to existing photography given bespoke flourishes by graffiti artist Faust. There are even handwoven rugs that illustrate championship wins of the New York Yankees.
The biggest brand story—though arguably not as visible as the enormous roof-planted Swoosh that tops the fifth floor—is the 4,000-square-foot basketball court on the second floor that can host a crowd of up to 400 for local league, high school and employee games.
While Spoljaric focused his efforts on working with a designer on the floor graphics, WSDIA’s Corey Yurkovich zeroed in on custom bleachers. Spoljaric encouraged them to go graphic with their design and set the design apart from what Nike had done in the past.
“We had the idea that the graphic would come from the structure of the bleachers itself,” explains Jackson. “So, the wood is inlaid with the aluminum frame and it creates these beautiful graphic lines.”
The bleachers are almost 40 feet wide, 18 feet deep and 12 feet high and the structure of the aluminum frame intentionally mimics the shape of a basketball net when viewed from above. The wood was stained to complement the floor of the court, which reads in huge letters, rather fittingly: “NYC.”
Project Name: Nike NYHQ
Location: New York
Open Date: June 2017
Project Area: 150,000 sq ft
Architect: STUDIOS Architecture
Experiential Graphic Design: Nike, WSDIA
Nike Team: Michael Spoljaric (senior creative director, global basketball), John Shipman (senior director of global workplace design), Jeni Reetz (workplace design + connectivity, contract senior brand project manager), Yossa Huggins (design director, interiors)
Collaborators: Dark Igloo (graphics), Carolina Moscoso (illustration), Braulio Amado, Alisa Keegan, Micah (illustration), Faust (hand lettering), Kam Tang, More and More Ltd (motion graphics)
Fabrication: JT Magan & Company, Inc. (contractor); Bark House, Lit, Axiom, Pink Sparrow, Miniwiz, Artisan Signcorp, Color X (fabricators); Coherent Design, Show + Tell, AMA Sign & Electric, Ryan Biggs Clark Davis, Sansi North America (digital fabrication and installation)