Inside the Berm at Nike Headquarters
Updated: Sep 21, 2021
Shhh...just over the green berm lies a campus that is part office, part playground. A visit to Nike's HQ shows how the company just does it, athletic style.
I had the good fortune to tour—actually, to be awed by—the Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. In a company known for cool, Nike communicates values, legend, and culture through its physical offices that house thousands of employees.
Nike is cool. How cool? Almost as cool as the dozens of shoe iterations designed for Michael Jordan, displayed in a building lobby. Nearly as cool as the parking spots reserved for the likes of Serena Williams and others. And certainly as cool as the glistening silver shoes with transparent soles—eight ounces light—that hang suspended on clear string from the ceiling.
While hip culture might thrive on celebrity and drama in the arena, Nike also honors its history. A first stop for visitors at the company museum displays the legend in rich visual detail: how Phil Knight, a runner at the University of Oregon, and his university track coach Bill Bowerman conspired to create a better shoe. Their early efforts made unlikely use of a waffle maker and rubber to mold soles. A VW van filled with orange boxes shows how Knight sold shoes from his car. And even further inside the campus, a Japanese garden honors shoe makers across the Pacific Ocean, instrumental in the company’s success.
It’s Nike’s love affair with sport, however, that dominates the campus. From the basketball court to the bright orange, solar-powered bikes strewn around the campus (unlocked with a touchpad for easy access), athletics rule. My tour guide explains that Phil Knight, tired of stopping for cars and lights while running, built the campus with an uninterrupted loop. Above the path and throughout the campus hang banners --- lots of banners --- with photographs of athletes: running, dunking, hitting, jumping, stroking, serving, reaching, blocking, shooting, and yes, celebrating.
Finally, Nike takes the phrase "architecturally consistent" seriously, as form follows function. For example, the building that houses all things baseball has exterior lines that mimic the pattern and dimensions of a baseball diamond. A circular hub (home plate) anchors east and west wings extending outward, towards hypothetical first and third plates. In another construction example, the outdoor corridors which connect buildings mirror the collaboration between various company departments. Finally, Nike expresses its support of female athletes with a giant “G” (for girl) sculpture at the edge of the large, centrally located lake.
Who knew that corporate messaging might arrive via a tennis ball crossing the net during lunchtime?
Next on my reading list: the New York Times best seller, Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight.