In May 1998, Lighting Dimensions looked at the illumination of NikeTown Honolulu. The last two years have seen further innovation throughout the chain, exemplified by stores that have opened in Miami and its largest outpost yet, in London.
Even as the concept of themed retail reaches dizzying new peaks, alternate trends are developing, as designers seek to re-address the balance between sheer theatricality and the demands of the retail business. One such example is NikeTown Miami, located in The Shops at Sunset Place, in South Miami. Like all NikeTowns, it features a series of interlocking pavilions, each devoted to a different sport, built around a central area near the entrance called a town square. But as designed by Amy Donohue for Nike with the architectural firm Boora (John O'Toole, project architect, and Kevin Johnson, project manager), the venue is a sleek assemblage of cool metal and glass surfaces, with color used sparingly.
The same is true of the lighting. According to Denise Fong, of Candela Lighting (who designed the lighting with Megan Strawn), "Miami is such a hot climate that we want to cool you off when you enter the store." Furthermore, she adds, "This NikeTown is distinctly different in the way it looks. Most of the others have open structure ceilings, painted black or some other dark color, with a lot of theatrical-looking fixtures hanging from pipes," an approach that can distract customers from the merchandise. In Miami, Fong says, "The lighting is really very quiet in comparison. The focus is on the merchandise and the architecture of the space."
The cool restraint is clear in the town square area, which contains a projection screen for the multimedia show that runs approximately once an hour. During non-show times, a blue wash from ETC Source Four units is focused on the screen. There are also slashes of blue in the ceiling, from National Cathode cold cathode units and Lumenyte fiber optics. The only other use of color comes in each pavilion, which is color-coded for each sport (e.g., red for basketball, green for golf); fluorescent striplighting (from Columbia) is placed in coves with colored gel. This is because, Fong says, "when we were finalizing the design, nobody knew for sure what the colors would be. Also, if they change the pavilions in a couple of years, they'll want to change the color. So we chose fluorescents with gels, rather than cold cathode or neon units."
To light the store itself, the majority of the units are recessed in the ceilings and, says Fong, "are almost entirely aimed at merchandise. Very few are aimed at the floor. Most of the lighting is bounce light, off the merchandise." These units are Lightolier and Kurt Versen metal-halide merchandise lighting, Kurt Versen downlights, and Lightolier and Litelab halogen accent lights for graphics. Fong says that the metal-halide units are unusual: "We did mockups for Nike in the early stages of the design, and they felt that the metal-halide source did a much better job of lighting their merchandise than halogen. That allowed us to give them nice high light levels, at a low energy cost--the energy code in Florida is fairly stringent--and you get a good look overall."
The store also features four glass enclosures, which serve as showcases for the store's merchandise delivery system, which is called ETV (electric track vehicle) chase. "The stockroom is on the third floor," says Fong. "There's one of each style of shoe on display. If a customer orders a size nine in a specific style, the clerk punches in the style on a computer keyboard, and someone in the stockroom sends it down," in full view of the customers. The glass cases also contain photo displays of various sports figures. "There are two sets of lights in the cases," adds Fong. "There's white light, for normal shopping conditions. Then, just before the multimedia show, the white lights go out and a second set of blue lights goes on. They're on a timer, and they chase from the exterior perimeter wall to the center of the store. The idea is to lead people to the show in the middle of the store. In doing that, we're able to leave on the merchandise lighting; people who don't want to see the show can keep shopping." The chase lighting is a mixture of fluorescents from Elliptipar and halogens from Litelab. Lighting control was provided by ETC.
Candela also worked on the store's exterior, which was begun by another designer. To light the central drum of the building, the designers mounted fluorescent striplight units with spread lens attachments from H.E. Williams vertically on the mullions of the drum's windows, focusing them at a wall approximately 1' behind to create a bounce light effect. They also added spotlights on the glass tile mosaic located near the top of the building.
In summing up the total effect of the store's unique look, Fong says, "It's a combination of things--a cleaner ceiling, a lighter surround of colors, focusing the illumination on the merchandise, not putting too much attention on the lights themselves--we let them recede into the background." The result, nonetheless, is a distinctive look that provides customers with a highly pleasurable shopping experience.
If shopping in Oxford Circus brings to mind button-down collars, staid overcoats, and those ubiquitous plaid scarves, think again. Nike has added a dash of contemporary sportsmanship to the northeast corner of one of London's busiest intersections, where the largest NikeTown store to date, a 70,000-sq.-ft. (6,300 sq. m) European flagship for Nike's sports shoes and athletic wear, opened last summer.
Designed by Building Design Partnership architects in tandem with Nike design gurus John Hoke and Michael Welch, the town square concept has been reinterpreted as an open square in the center of the store that surrounds a core, or tower, of perforated metal that stretches three stories high and is large enough for shoppers to walk through. Bridges and walkways lead from this inner core to various shopping areas on the three floors of the store.
The core of the central metal tower is a round steel pole with spokes that support nearly 1,000 photographs of Nike's favorite images: sports and the people who play them. The metal of the tower acts both as a scrim and projection screen for moving lights and video images that are part of a show that takes place every 20 minutes.
"At showtime, the music gets louder and the lights dim in the shopping areas," says Natasha Katz, lighting designer for the central core and the show (the architectural lighting in the shopping areas was done by Gerry Healy of Lorne Stewart Ltd. in London). "When it's not showtime, a soundscape continues to play and the lights continue their changes of color and movement to augment the soundtrack. The core is like a pulsating heart in the center of the store. It is never dormant."
This juxtaposition of show elements and shopping is a second such collaboration for Nike and Katz. She designed the lighting for the show elements at the NikeTown store in Manhattan, which for many set a new benchmark for the integration of entertainment into the retail arena. As Katz points out, the London store has a larger and more sophisticated lighting rig so the show can be considerably more sophisticated as well.
"There is more equipment than in the New York store," Katz notes. "This gives it more of an environmental impact. You can see the perforated metal core from wherever you are in the store. It is lit using theatrical forms of light, so that you can see through it or project light and video onto it. The metal is encased by the movement of the images and the light."
To achieve the movement she wanted, Katz used a substantial number of Clay Paky automated luminaires including 64 Stage Color 300s, eight Stage Scans, and eight Stage Zooms, as well as conventional fixtures including 28 500W fresnels and 24 Strand Coda 1/500s. The dimmers are Pulsar Datapacks.
"Big movements add excitement to the space," says Katz, who placed the Stage Colors on the ceiling of each of the three shopping floors that open onto the central core. "They circle the 'chandelier' or center spoke with the photographs," she explains, noting that retail spaces are not the usual venues for lights that wiggle and move, but this store has pushed the envelope for theatrical-style lighting in a retail environment.
"Each day we got a little bolder with the lighting to heighten the feeling in the store," says Katz, who used the Stage Scans to add gobos and color onto the outside of the metal core. While there is a great deal of movement to the light, the color palette is intentionally very narrow, restricted mostly to light steel blue, white, and orange. "There is a high-tech sheen to the architecture in a lot of places," Katz notes. "The white and steel blue complement this. Magenta and other bright colors didn't feel right. They seemed too disco."
The Strand Codas, with blue glass filters, are used as wash lights on the metal core, while the fresnels are used to light the walls (one is brick, one has a large clock, etc.) of the imaginary town square that surrounds the metal tower. They also illuminate the walkways that lead from the shopping areas into the central core, occasionally creating bold architectural slashes of light.
"This project was two years in the making," says Katz, who did a demonstration of her intent for the movement of the light at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, OR. "They built a two-story model of the central core and we brought in moving lights to see how it would work."
Much of the programming for the lighting was done in New York by Paul Sonnleitner using WYSIWYG. "He programmed the architecture of the space on all three levels, then placed the lights where they would be in the store," explains Katz. "We also had copies of the videos with SMPTE time code and we were able to program the lights to the sounds and images, frame by frame, to the millisecond. With WYSIWYG you could get a good sense of the color and the movement."
Richard Knight worked on the programming on-site in London, using a Wholehog II console from Flying Pig Systems. "We took the disk from New York and put it into the console and everything looked great. The timing was perfect," notes Katz, who spent two weeks, eight hours a day, at the store to finish the programming and the interface with the video and show control systems.
On the London end of the project was Peter Keiderling, supervisor for A.C. Lighting (which supplied the lighting equipment package). The firm started working on the job in 1997 and was part of the decision-making process that resulted in the use of the Clay Paky Stage Color 300 automated luminaires fitted with Osram HMD 300W 3,000-hour lamps as the basic fixture to light the center core of the store.
As the lights were put into place, he kept in close contact with Katz in New York. "Over the five weeks that the rig was installed," says PK (as Keiderling is called throughout the industry), "information regarding the exact orientation of each light was relayed, via WYSIWYG drawings."
Once the lighting was programmed, the cues were transferred to a Hog-in-a-Box to run the show. This in turn is prompted by SMPTE time code provided by ESCAN (Electrosonic Control Area Network), a PC-based show control system by Electrosonic, the Dartford, UK, company that provided the complex audiovisual systems for the store. Sarah Gorman served as Electrosonic's project manager, supervising the installation and programming.
The installation of the four Barco Vision 9200 video projectors was supervised by consultant Josh Weisberg of Scharff Weisberg in New York. The projectors are placed into cutouts in the floor slabs surrounding the central core, and shoot the images onto the perforated metal tower from two different levels (the second and third floors).
"The biggest challenge here is that we were shooting onto a curved surface, so there were geometry problems with the images," says Weisberg. "Ideally you want to project onto a flat surface." To compensate, he worked closely with the video providers who distorted the images to make up for the curves. "The physical and electronic alignment of the projectors was also very sensitive," he notes.
"The message in the images is about sports and Nike's support of the athlete," Weisberg continues. "In the London store there is also more lighting and sound when the show isn't happening. You walk into this environment and you know this is a different kind of place."
One of the other challenges of this project was A.C. Lighting's choice of cabling. "My choice of DMX cable would need to be of an extremely high standard and not only have all the properties associated with installation cables (like not sustaining a flame), it had to have an outer sheath that if subjected to a flame would not drip molten PVC or rubber," Keiderling explains. "Another DMX issue which had to be overcome was that the electrical contractor would not be able to solder into the 86 DMX junction boxes situated around the store, so reluctantly we had to provide DMX in/out panels with screw terminal connections. Following a session reading specs on many different cables, I decided that Tourflex Datasafe 2 would be the only cable for the job."
With its DMX runs, curved metal scrim, battery of automated luminaires, and sophisticated show control systems, this NikeTown has what Katz calls "the most sophisticated theatrical lighting in a store." Leave it to Nike to once again reinvent the parameters of the retail experience and make shopping such an entertaining event, now on an international scale.