Design studio channels Nike brand

When it comes to corporate partnerships, a class of graduate architecture students is saying “just do it.”

This semester, an advanced design studio taught by visiting architecture professor Greg Lynn and School of Architecture critic Brennan Buck is partnering with Nike Inc. to explore buildings in movement. As technology evolves, Buck said, architects are delving further into the possibility of not only creating the illusion of motion in a building, but also using robotics and sensory mechanics to build structures that actually move.

Earlier this month, the students traveled to Nike’s headquarters in Portland, Ore., where members of the company’s design team talked to them about brand identity, product development and the motion of the human body. While it is rare for studios at the School of Architecture to interact directly with corporate sponsors, Buck said Nike’s focus on movement in design makes it an ideal resource.

The students’ principal task is to design a retail, production and manufacturing design center for Nike in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“Nike is basically serving as the client for the studio,” Buck said.

Buck added that since Nike is currently preparing for the 2014 FIFA World Cup competition that will take place in the city, the studio class culminates in presenting hypothetical designs for a facility where the company can manufacture shoes on-site, as opposed to shipping them to Brazil. Representatives from Nike will be present at the students’ final review this May, Buck said.

Three students in the studio said that despite the unique nature of their relationship with Nike, their experience so far has been largely positive. Michael Moirano ARC ’13 said he expected their visit to be mostly company “propaganda,” but was pleasantly surprised to find the designers very open to discussion.

“Nike wants to move forward in the way they manufacture projects in the public eye,” Moirano said, adding that he is not concerned about corporate influence, because “we’re at Yale — it’s all about selling out.”

At the beginning of the semester, the students were required to sign a waiver giving Nike partial rights to any designs that emerge from the class. Moirano said he thinks association with a brand name like Nike would significantly improve an architecture student’s job prospects.

While Moirano and fellow classmate Tal Liu ARC ’13 said they welcome opportunities to collaborate with businesses, Jaeho Chong ARC ’13 noted that issues of authorship could surface down the road.

“There is a sensitive boundary between an academic project and professional collaboration,” Chong said.

Wearing a Nike hoodie that she had been given during the Portland trip, Liu joked about becoming a “corporate hack.” Moirano said a portion of Nike’s presentation during their visit was devoted to showing commercials and selling their corporate culture.

The School of Architecture relies on corporate sponsorship for many aspects of its programming, School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern said. He cited the Vlock Building Project — an annual community construction project undertaken by first-year students — as a school tradition that functions on donations from local businesses, such as Claire’s Corner Copia and Elm City Market. Last year, a class worked with Facebook to study the construction of data centers.

Stern said these partnerships are beneficial to both parties, as “students are able to connect with the world, while companies see it as a public service and a selling point for their product.”

“There is not much danger of students being taken advantage of,” Buck said. “We have to keep in mind that this is about the students’ education — Nike is not interested in getting anything concrete from us.”

Students in the class will travel to Rio de Janeiro over spring break to gain a better understanding of the city’s physical and architectural environments.

Correction: Feb. 22

A previous version of this article misattributed multiple statements by School of Architecture critic Brennan Buck to architecture professor Greg Lynn.

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