inside the virgil abloh-stewarded NikeLab chicago re-creation center

inside the virgil abloh-stewarded NikeLab chicago re-creation center

NIKE and virgil abloh have again joined forces to launch a new venue at the heart of chicago, designed to empower the city’s youth. officially titled the ‘NikeLab chicago re-creation center c/o virgil abloh’, or the ‘re-creation center’ for short, the destination intends to spark creativity through workshops, giveback programs, exclusive product, and local influential forces. conceived as a future iteration of the retail environment, the venue seeks to engage in the physical and cultural energy of chicago to make the city, and the world, better through sport.


designboom was in attendance at the opening of the re-creation center, where we spoke one-on-one with virgil abloh about his vision for the store and how he wants to inspire the next generation of chicago’s creative talent. read more about the initiative, and the interview in full, below.

virgil abloh nikelab chicago re-creation center
all images courtesy of NIKE, unless otherwise stated



in addition to designing the interior of the re-creation center alongside NIKE, virgil abloh also selected chicago-based creators to host workshops within the space. these mentors include chuck anderson who leads creative studio NoPattern, photographer paul octavious, multidisciplinary artist alyx harch, and architects thomas kelley and carrie norman of norman kelley, and ann lui and craig reschke of future firm.

virgil abloh nikelab chicago re-creation center
the space is populated with items that have special significance to abloh’s career



the mentors, whose skills and expertise span a wide range of creative disciplines, will work with 10 young talents from the chicago-area. each of these mentees will have the opportunity to advance their skills by working closely with both the mentors and their peers. after an immersive eight-week period of workshops and development, final projects will be presented.

virgil abloh nikelab chicago re-creation center
literature by rem koolhaas is presented alongside books on michael jordan | image © designboom



all visitors to the re-creation center have access to NIKE’s reuse-a-shoe initiative, an installation that recycles worn-out athletic shoes by turning them into NIKE grind — granules that can be re-purposed. in addition to the NIKE grind visible throughout the interior of the re-creation center, where it is found in the stools and flooring, among other elements, the recycled granules will also be leveraged to build a virgil abloh-designed basketball court in the local community.

virgil abloh nikelab chicago re-creation center
the venue will host workshops by chicago-based mentors



the re-creation center — which remains open on michigan avenue until july 28, 2019 — will offer unique access and experiences for NikePlus members to unlock. by connecting digitally with NIKE on the SNKRS app, NikePlus members can experience exclusive product drops and sign ups for workshops led by chicago creatives.

virgil abloh nikelab chicago re-creation center
young creatives will be given the resources to create and experiment | image © designboom



designboom (DB): you’re from the chicago area, and you studied here, so this project must have a strong personal significance for you?


virgil abloh (VA): design at a certain point isn’t concerned with self-serve itself, unless it means something to the world in the context that it exists in. so this project is about shaping the context just as much as it is about what the output is itself.

virgil abloh nikelab chicago re-creation center
an installation reuses worn-out athletic shoes by turning them into NIKE grind



DB: how did you and NIKE work together to collaborate on the space, and what kind of setting did you want to create?


VA: hats off to NIKE. we’ve had a great relationship thus far and they really started the design process with letting me have a lot of say in the premise, the materiality, the layout — it was all pretty much given to me as a responsibility. a super important part was the façade, I wanted it to feel like there was an ability for the public to relate to the façade. you can see there’s a funnel outside, which almost feels like a depot as if you could put shoes in it and have them travel and be recycled. that was the emotion, so that’s what came through. all the way to the terrazzo, which has NIKE grind mixed into it.

the NIKE grind granules can be reused in a variety of different ways



DB: how significant is that sense of collaboration, and bringing people from different backgrounds together to work on something together using their shared expertise?


VA: obviously the word ‘diversity’ gets thrown around a lot. I believe bringing people together from diverse backgrounds and capabilities in terms of design will lead to new advancements. that’s what my practice is based on, and that’s what I try to usher though, even in projects such as this.

the project is a place for chicago’s youth and creative talents to gather



DB: how important is it for a young person to experiment in different creative fields, and find their path? is that something you went through?


VA: yeah, I was one of those kids on the street here, shopping in these shops, and consuming, but not knowing how to design. but if you have enough passion to know exactly what shoe you like, in my mind that’s the same sort of thread that makes a designer. I wanted to bring those two things closer. with designboom, what we have in common is that we want design to be a more common language — not just among designers, but of the public at large. because once the public understand what good design is, then they can then shape what design is just as much as a ‘designer’ can.

a large banner welcomes visitors to the re-creation center



DB: were you given any particular advice when you were starting out that you felt informed your practice?


VA: I think what makes my vigor is that I discovered it myself, through passion and work and desire. an undying curiosity is more powerful than any piece of advice. so that’s what this place is, it’s about giving people the tools to get on the hamster-wheel of creating and designing, thereby you can advance. it’s not just about making tables with pens and paper, it’s about programs and interacting with a list of mentors that make this an active place to come — a true re-creation center.

rubber, foam, fiber, leather and textile blends are separated and ground into a wide range of granules

NIKE grind has even been used for the mannequins | image © designboom

the space will offer unique access and experiences for NikePlus members to unlock

virgil abloh launched the re-creation center with the help of some familiar faces



project info:


name: NikeLab chicago re-creation center c/o virgil abloh
design: virgil abloh, NIKE
mentors: chuck anderson (graphic design), paul octavious (photography), alyx harch (fabric design), thomas kelley and carrie norman (brand identity), ann lui and craig reschke (architecture)
location: 673 N. michigan avenue, chicago, IL, USA
dates: may 31 to july 28, 2019
times: monday – saturday 10am to 7pm; sunday 11am to 6pm

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