Image courtesy of Jeremy Bittermann
The Serena Williams Building is the largest structure at Nike World Headquarters at more than 1 million square feet, and built for a workforce of nearly 3,000.

Nike’s New Serena Williams Building Wins LEED Platinum

March 24, 2023
The new 1 million-square-foot headquarters pays homage to the global sports brand’s heritage while dominating the sustainability game at an urban scale.

There’s no question that Serena Williams is the Queen of the Court in the world of tennis, inspiring millions with her sheer talent and athleticism. It’s fitting, then, that Nike looked to capture Williams’ “phenom-warrior-muse” persona in the building of her namesake, home to the company’s innovative, new World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.

Designed by Skylab Architecture, the 1 million-square-foot Serena Williams Building is the largest structure on the global sports brand’s campus that is estimated to be the size of 140 full-sized tennis courts—a fitting tribute to one of the biggest names in sports. The massive, LEED Platinum-certified building was built to accommodate a workforce of nearly 3,000. It simultaneously pays homage to Nike’s heritage while looking toward the future of work—and the planet.

The design team at Skylab Architecture designed all aspects of this programmatically complex building, including core and shell, interiors, FF&E and brand integration.

Empowering Connection and Collaboration

After decades on the Beaverton campus, Nike’s product designers companywide had become spread out across multiple buildings, which did not support a sense of cohesion, according to Susan Barnes, principal and director of architecture at Skylab. To remedy the situation, the building is organized so that designers for each brand occupy a single level, while the corresponding services stack vertically between levels. In a first for Nike, products can move from sketch to prototype to final design to retail fixture all under one roof.

“The idea from the beginning was to have all of the designers in one building so that there would be cross communication and visual connections between them,” she said.

Of course, creating a design-intensive workspace that fosters connection and collaboration and drives innovation on such an enormous scale was a primary design challenge for the design team. Skylab sought to balance the number of desking options and seats determined within the program while integrating as much flexibility and multiple space types for different work styles as possible. “We really spent a lot of time looking at the plan and program layouts trying to develop a sense of community within the design teams,” Barnes recalled.

As a result, Skylab placed the circulation and public rooms in the center of the building and created blocks of utility spaces extending out, such as a long, central bar of conference rooms broken up by open workspaces to help break down the scale. “That was definitely one of the challenges that we had,” Barnes said. “How do you make it feel human scale at such a large footprint and with distances to walk? So, wayfinding was definitely something we were constantly thinking of too.”

The 160-foot-long Design Connector, a rotational steel truss tube, spans between four levels of design and office space. Natural light floods the workspaces from glazing on two sides and skylights above the communicating stairs.

Inspired by Greatness

A few months into the design process, Skylab was informed the building would be named after Williams, which helped form the foundation for the narrative around brand integration and the architectural elements of the building, Barnes recalled. The tennis great’s warrior-like spirit on the court is reflected in the building’s shell, which draws inspiration from ancient samurai armor, and is balanced by a more subtle approach to the interior details and finishes.

“They always refer to [Williams] as kind of this warrior and muse, and so the toughness of the exterior is in contrast to some of the softer, more colorful, flowing interiors,” Barnes explained. “And then obviously we had amazing resources to work from in terms of her history and career and personality” that inspired the custom artwork seen throughout the building.

In ancient Greek mythology, Nike is the winged goddess of victory. It’s fitting, then, that Serena Williams’ building has wings too—each of which is named after one of the three phases of her career.

[Related: Adaptive Reuse: The Greenest Building Strategy?]

“The wings are called Phenom, Warrior and Muse, and so the color palettes were developed around that thinking and based on a lot of her iconic apparel that [Nike] designed for her,” Barnes said, noting that the design team referenced oranges and purples that were evocative of her early career, as well as iconic dresses Williams had worn. The tennis theme also carries through in the food service venues, named after several of the classic events such as the New York Open and Wimbledon, the rooftop restaurant.

‘Towering’ Amenities

The building consists of four programmatic components: a merchandising center for prototype retail spaces; integrated design studios for multiple product categories; an underground parking garage and loading dock; and a 12-story tower with shared amenities for the whole campus. The tower combines two intertwined volumes, as a nod to the two founders of Nike, and serves as the first celebrated architectural element that can be seen beyond the low-lying campus that was previously hidden behind what they called “the berm.”

The tower “was really intended to be iconic to the whole Nike campus,” Barnes said. “We worked with them on the programming in such a way that the amenities could be used by anyone in any of the teams on campus.”

The 10th floor features a rooftop restaurant and bar with expansive views to Mt. Hood as well as a world-class lecture hall and multiuse space that can host parties or products displays, for example. Accessory spaces like atria, communicating stairs, modular kitchenettes and courtyards keep spaces at a human scale.

A Champion of Sustainability

The new Serena Williams Building was designed with environmental performance in mind. From the onset of the project, Barnes said the client determined LEED Platinum certification should be among its primary goals—and it succeeded, not surprisingly. The building achieved 82 out of 110 total possible points under the LEED v2 rating system and reached a number of notable benchmarks (see sidebar below).

LEED Summary

The Nike Serena Williams Building achieved 82 points out of 110 total possible LEED points. The most significant categories were Energy & Atmosphere and Sustainable Sites. The project earned all 6 Innovation in Design points, and 3 out of 4 Regional Priority credits.

Other sustainable elements include:

• Low flow plumbing fixtures and a rainwater reuse system for flush fixtures reduced indoor plumbing water usage by 69% compared to a baseline building.

• The building was installed with energy efficient mechanical and electrical systems that allowed for a 46% energy cost savings compared to the ASHRAE 90.1 2007 baseline.

• The project has recycled 77% by weight of the waste generated on-site over the course of construction, meeting the initial goal set at the project start.

• The project used building products with recycled content totaling 24% of the total cost of all materials.

• The project used 81% by cost of building materials or products from FSC-certified & sustainably sourced forest.

• All of the adhesives, sealants, paints, and coatings for the project are well below the allowable VOC thresholds.

Each of the building’s distinct bars cascade to the south and feature inhabitable, interlacing green roof terraces that overlook the wetland. These terraces allow for outdoor workspaces and connection to nature even at the upper levels of the building. Energy efficient mechanical systems include displacement ventilation and radiant sails, and a 260 kW photovoltaic array screens rooftop mechanical units from view.

The site is located adjacent to a beautiful wetland which the campus had turned away from and had previously contained a parking lot and an access road. Skylab used regenerative design principles to engage the natural world as the catalyst for respectful site design and intelligent construction using responsible systems and materials. The building now establishes new links to the existing campus through restored wetlands, public plazas and view corridors.

To maximize connection to the landscape, the building is oriented toward the wetland. The design team was especially sensitive to the pedestrian experience—employees can walk around the entire site outdoors and remain dry during the rainy season. The negative spaces created by the branching bars are treated with the same care as the interior spaces. Courtyards, gardens, plazas and a sunken tennis court provide outdoor spaces for work, recreation and relaxation.

Other sustainable design features include energy efficient mechanical systems, a rainwater capture and reuse system, regional and recycled materials, radiant sails, and FSC-certified wood products. Stormwater also is collected and returned to the wetland, while tempered air is pumped down through the core of the building then pushed out through the raised access floor, allowing each desk occupant to adjust their airflow. Exposed concrete on the interior provides a raw, open palette in the design studios and expresses the building’s structure in key moments.

Barnes says the design team at Skylab is most proud of the fact that it was able to take a building of substantial magnitude and not only blend it into the landscape, but also make it feel human. “I think that’s what we really take away from it, and instead of seeing it as this really large, programmatic and complex building, it’s really about how we tried to break it down into a smaller scale and integrated it with the surrounding landscape and views,” she said, adding that they wanted to inspire Nike’s employees with design and architecture for the next 50 to 100 years. “That was as much of a driver in the overall concept too,” she said. “We wanted people to show up and be inspired by the world and their own design work.”

Project Profile

Project Team

Architecture and Interior Design - Skylab Architecture

Building Enclosure - Facade Group

Civil Engineering - WHPacific

Code Consultant - Code Unlimited

Contractor - Hoffman Construction

Kitchen Consultant - HDA

Landscape - Place Landscape

Lighting - Luma

Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing - PAE

Signage/Wayfinding - Ambrosini Design

Sound - Listen Acoustics

Specifications Consultant - M.Thrailkill

Structural Engineering - Thornton Tomasetti

Sustainability Consultant – Brightworks

Photography

Jeremy Bittermann

Stephen Miller

Read next: How These 3 Buildings Achieved Zero Energy

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