Phil Knight’s Obsession with the Suburban Campus

One of the cool things about settling in NW Portland is that I could tell friends and family back east that I was living a few blocks from the Will Vinton Studios, home of “Claymation” and the California Raisins.

Phil Knight became an investor, and ultimately owner of the studios, changing the name to Laika, Inc. a little while back. Now comes word that Phil has bought 30 acres in Tualatin to build a campus for Laika. So much for the cool factor in Northwest.

But wait! Last week the Oregonian reported that to complete its next project, Laika will be renting more space in Northwest on an interim basis.

Which got me thinking, why does Laika need one of those infamous “shovel ready” industrial sites to do its thing? This is all about computer animation and stop-motion animation. Does that need individual spaces much bigger than a Pearl District condo (well, a penthouse anyway)? Why can’t Phil build up instead of out? There’s lot of land in the “transition area” in NW Portland (the old Consolidated Freightways site). Why the rush to the burbs? Surely Laika’s young creatives would prefer to be in the middle of a happening city scene. And if Joe Cortright’s data is correct, they probably live near the city center too. That’s a long reverse commute!

So what’s with Phil’s decision? Is it just habit, an homage to the Nike campus? Does Phil secretly like sprawl and congestion? Is he allergic to city streets?

Let’s have some new thinking. After all, if Laika (the dog) could rocket into space, surely Laika (the studio) could rocket into some high-rise offices.

[Deep painful confession: since moving to Oregon in 1988 I have been employed exclusively at offices in suburban campuses, in Beaverton or Wilsonville. However, since 2000, I have primarily been a telecommuter, working from my home office in Northwest Portland and commuting to Wilsonville one day a week by a combination of bike and bus.

Sentimental reminiscence: I can remember when we used to look out the windows at the Tek campus in Wilsonville and see deer licking up the water from the sprinklers on dry August days. It’s been many years since that scene, as the nearby land is all subdivisions now. Imagine what that would look like without the UGB.]

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