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Race to the Top: Adidas Wins Big at Shanghai HQ by PDM International

  • PROJECT NAME Adidas
  • LOCATION Shanghai
  • FIRM PDM International
  • SQ. FT. 150,000 SQF

Consider the latest Adidas Originals shoe, the Poodle by fashion designer Jeremy Scott. It’s for men, and it has pink faux-fur uppers and rubber soles in a coordinating bubble-gum. Each tongue culminates in a bulbous dog head sporting winged white sunglasses. At the heel is a tiny tail tipped with a pom-pom. 

Stella McCartney and Yohji Yamamoto have created similarly unexpected Originals. Now the Adidas Group’s list of stylish collaborators has expanded to include Simon Park. His contribution is not, however, a high-top sneaker or a high-tech track suit. As design director of PDM International, the interior architect built out a regional headquarters for the German sports and fashion mega-brand, plus four subsidiaries, at the top of a brand-new class A skyscraper in Shanghai—Apple is among the downstairs neighbors.

Other clients have asked Park to complete similar spaces at breakneck speed, sometimes as little as 90 days. Luckily, Adidas gave him a relatively leisurely nine months to spearhead both design and construction for the 150,000 square feet, on seven stories. “They were very clear and confident about who they are and what direction to go,” he adds. Which is not to say that the project lacked for lost-in-translation moments.

Following local custom rather than asking for his preference, the developer delivered the premises with suspended ceilings. Since he’d been hoping for spaces to soar close to 15 feet, slab to slab, he had to demolish acres of acoustical tile in what he calls a “wildly expensive” exercise. Then a feng shui master forbade the black paint that Park needed to unify the resulting chaos of exposed beams, ducts, and fire sprinklers. Undaunted, he switched to the darkest permissible shade of gray.

The no-nonsense result is tough enough, with an industrial edge. Sports bona fides aside, Park notes, “Adidas is quite street.” A sort of Stanley Kubrick futurism joins the mix, starting with reception’s angular black wing chairs, arranged on a round of up-lit frosted glass, and gray woven-vinyl modular flooring, with its repeating triangles. Call the look a studied architectural response to the company’s experiments with foams and performance fabrics. “The latest shoes are so lightweight, apparently seamless,” Park says. “They’re really out there, and we tried to capture that.”

His original concept involved a shot of pure, branded color: a meeting room in a freestanding Adidas-blue “shoe box” near the entry. That got nixed when corporate brass determined it would be unfair to the subsidiary brands, such as Reebok. Instead, bright blue appears as accents. For a conference room, he chose goat-hair carpet in a stock shade that happens to be a perfect match with Adidas, then painted the ceiling the same color.

That conference room also boasts a table with a top digitally milled in the shape of a sneaker sole, complete with stylized tread pattern. The table is white, another key color. In a major branding move, a trio of white LED-illuminated bands, evocative of the Adidas three-stripe logo, rise alongside the switchback floating staircase connecting all levels. (He made room for it, hugging a curtain wall that offers a spectacular skyline view, by reconfiguring structural beams.)

Similar white bands appear in the boardroom, which furthermore features an entire wall of white back-painted glass, a dry-erase surface for scribbles. “Adidas was willing to pay a premium for glass, because vinyl on walls doesn’t really fit their brand image,” he explains. Across from this deluxe whiteboard, window shades are printed with enormous portraits of famous Adidas endorsers, such as David Beckham—updated when necessary by the in-house visuals team. Park describes the room as “sexy and slick, with a big sound system that’s quite groovy.” In the center stands a table built from scratch on-site, its solid-surfacing top polished to a high sheen.

He didn’t hesitate to choose such a challenging finish, despite the expected wear and tear. “We’ll nurture it,” he says, referring to the fact that PDM International delivered the office with a three-year maintenance contract, standard practice in China. This arrangement will permit him to keep other details shipshape, too. For example, he’ll continue to maintain the strict black-and-white palette of a sneaker display in reception. No pink Poodles allowed.

Project Resources >>

Project Team:
Thomas Danet; Jerry Wang; West Lu; Jack Zhang; Chrisy Tao; Julia Zhu; Jennifer Jiang: PDM International. East China Architectural Design & Research Institute: Structural Engineer, Jones Lang LaSalle: Project Manager.