Nike is a company built upon moving fast, so it should come as no surprise that its corporate structure operates the same way. For Rafael de Cárdenas, the founder and primary creative force behind the New York-based firm, Architecture at Large, that meant executing a design for Nike’s new Stadium NYC project in little more than a month.
Originally envisioned by company executives in early 2010 and handed over to de Cárdenas’ team in April of the same year, Nike Stadium NYC opened its doors in May—just in time for the FIFA World Cup—with the express purpose of celebrating the global pastime of soccer (and maybe selling a few jerseys in the process).
And while the project’s tight turnaround time might have scared off other designers, de Cárdenas responded with a stripped-down yet elegant plan for the 8,000-square-foot space in New York City’s Bowery neighborhood.
“The idea was that it was almost like a found object,” he says, and the space is certainly reflective of that inspiration. Nike Stadium NYC’s main rooms are filled with highly stylized graphics, wall displays and modular furniture made with utilitarian materials like pegboard and oriented strand board (OSB), touches of direct and diffused lighting, and not much else.
Of course, that sparseness is all part of the Nike Stadium concept, which has been replicated around the world. Intended to function as a space where visitors can “experience product, design and innovation, combined with the worlds of film, photography, art and music,” Stadium NYC is perhaps more accurately described as an informal community space with a small retail operation on the side. The main event space, filled with modular, polygonal cells, can be configured as stadium seating for film screenings and raucous World Cup viewing parties; those same cells can also be tucked into a corner to form a block during workshops or art exhibits. A pitch-like pattern of linear fluorescents hovers above the event space, suggesting movement and action.
The Stadium’s retail area maintains much of the flexibility of the main event area, but makes greater use of pegboard and ambient lighting to create a strongly contrasting space. “If the main room is the stadium—the loud area, the party center—this is a more personal area where you can observe the product in a more intimate setting,” de Cárdenas says.
The unique pattern of bright, directional lines striping the floor grabs your eyes immediately, but it’s de Cárdenas’ layered use of pegboard on the walls that is
most remarkable. Functionally, the system’s two layers of pegboard—consisting of a base layer, which the products are seated on, and a magnetized, outer “mask” layer which can be removed or rearranged to display products in a very specific way—are a triumph of pragmatic design. Aesthetically, the raw, industrial nature of the pegboard makes a strong juxtaposition against the crisp, angular forms of the main event area, while the holes of the wall material diffuse the light produced by fluorescent fixtures underneath, giving the space a thoughtful, meditative quality.
“We thought that it was cool to think of pegboard as sort of the unsung hero of sport, in a way,” de Cárdenas says. “It’s this thing that everyone has in their garage and it’s very utilitarian—it’s where you hang your stuff. It’s a very back-of-house material, and we liked the idea of foregrounding it and treating it in a very intricate way.”
While the space was only meant to last through the end of the summer, Nike concluded that the brand value of Stadium NYC was worth keeping on a longer-term basis. While Nike has since renovated the main event space to focus on skate and surf culture, the larger spirit of the space—along with the pegboard concept in the retail area—has largely been retained. For de Cárdenas, the project’s evolution showcases the unique intersection of retail and design.
“Architecture and interiors tend to move a bit slower than fashion, art and the larger world of design. So I think that retail design is probably a good example of architectural interiors that respond to more currency, and that’s largely because they have to support contemporary products. I think that retail design speaks in a huge way to contemporary design—more than any other aspect of architecture.”
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nike stadium nyc
New York, NY 10012
architecture + brand design
Architecture at Large
611 Broadway, Studio 627
New York, NY 10012
Rafael de Cárdenas, creative director
Justin Capuco, lead designer
Ryan Brooke Thomas, lead designer
Sam Sutcliffe, design team