The Georges Pompidou opened officially in 1977, housing the ‘bibliotheque publique d’information’ (that’s the public information library for all of us who didn’t pass GCSE French). The reaction to its design was mixed at first - French author and journalist Rene Barjavel coming to the typically articulate conclusion: ‘God, it’s ugly’. The building’s namesake didn’t live to see the finished structure, but the art-loving President of France’s initial reaction to seeing a model of the competition-winning design was ‘this will make them scream’. It’s a building that makes an impression if nothing else.
Today, the design is celebrated as a genuinely creative piece of post-modern architecture, aptly described as ‘love at second sight’ by National Geographic. Designed by architects unknown at the time, there are more than just design parallels to be drawn against the Nike Air Max One. Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers’ concept was that of movement, and to expose all of the building’s infrastructure – concepts not lost on Tinker Hatfield a decade later.
Big hair, bigger Air
Launched in 1987, Nike’s Air Max 1 was the shoe to kick-start one of the most celebrated lines in the company’s gilded history. The 80’s was a decade of neons, abstract prints and big hair; the recent successes of the Waffle Racer, the Cortez and the Tailwind had helped Nike capture 50% of the US athletic shoe market at the start of the ‘80s, but they weren’t shoes in the spirit of the new decade.
In 1981, Tinker Hatfield – a name now synonymous with the brand – joined Nike’s corporate architecture division, helping design buildings on the company’s Oregon campus. Four years later, Hatfield would join Nike’s nine other sneaker designers in shouldering the responsibility for the future of the company’s footwear output. Tinker would prove to be the flame to light the touch paper – his early sketches widely discussed within the company as ‘pushing things too far’.
Building the future
Speaking on the Netflix series ‘Abstract: The Art of Design’, Hatfield talks about the creative process:
“I think if you just stay in your studio and try and dream up new ideas, there’s not a good foundation for your idea. Just get out there and experience life. That just gives you the library in your head to then translate that into unique, new design work.”
Getting out of the office was key to the eventual design of the Air Max 1, a shoe that Tinker was working on outside of Nike’s active promotions and marketing drives. As an industrial designer, he knew he had something unique to bring to the table outside of the current projects.
“A lot of us at Nike have travelled extensively to try and be inspired and to understand people from all over the world in different cities, cultures and religions,” Hatfield says. “I had known about this very interesting and very innovative and very controversial building called the Georges Pompidou Centre. It’s one of my ‘must-sees’ when I went to Paris. Coming into the plaza surrounding the centre, you can see the stark contrast between the traditional French style of mansard roofs, small windows and row housing. And then to see this large, almost machine-like building sort of ‘spilling its guts to the world.’ In other words, you could just see everything. You could see the escalators and the heating and air conditioning and the levels of the different parts of the museum. You could see people. It really inspired me because it shook the world of architecture and urban design. It changed the way that people looked at buildings.”
Despite his professional background, Hatfield would change the way a lot of people looked at shoes. Being one of the early playtesters of the Air Force 1, he had an appreciation of Air technology and along with Dave Forland, Nike’s Director of Cushioning Innovation, challenged opposition that displaying the Air technology was a bad idea. At the time, Nike had been trying to make its technology smaller – Hatfield was suggesting the opposite, and making it visible. Stability and durability of the exposed unit was called into question – the shoe was as much of a risk functionally as it was from a design perspective.
1 Legacy Later
It’s safe to say the Air Max 1 took off. Before 1987, the running market was an uninspired sea of neutral shades of mesh and beige suede. Tinker’s directional design forced runners (and the sneaker-wearing masses) to stop and take note: an instantly recognisable silhouette complete with clear midsole window and colourways featuring bold hits of red and blue were something completely new. The Nike Air Max 1 kick-started running sneakers as a lifestyle culture, where previously (predominantly) high-top basketball shoes were the only athletic shoes to transcend their athletic purpose to become ingrained in street culture.
Now, it’s hard to imagine any sneaker collection without multiple entries in the Air Max series, with sneakers like the Air Max 95, 97 and last year’s VaporMax becoming icons in their own right. All have a debt to pay to the shoe that made visible Air possible, and the building that inspired it.
The Air Max 1 is the reason for Air Max Day (That’s the 26th March, by the way), so the next time you’re copping a limited release during Air Max Month, take a minute to salute the design that started it all. And the next time you’re in Paris and you hear someone bad-mouthing the Pompidou, take a second to tell them, respectfully, they don’t have a clue what they’re talking about.
Keep your eyes on our social channels for some special Air Max 1 news coming soon, and check out our full collection of Air Max silhouettes here.