At Fila, putting best foot forward; Award: The U.S. headquarters of the Italian sports apparel titan, in Sparks, is being honored by the American Institute of Architects for interior design.


EXCEPT FOR THE giant "F" on the outside, the corporate headquarters of Fila USA might be mistaken for any of the suburban office buildings constructed north of Towson during the past 20 years.

From the moment you set foot inside the front door, however, it's clear that this is a one-of-a-kind workplace.

The entrance lobby is a narrow corridor reminiscent of concrete tunnels beneath stadiums and arenas.

After walking past the receptionist, visitors and employees emerge into a large atrium filled with natural light.

The sequence brings to mind the pre-game trek that athletes make when they move from the locker room to the playing field.

It's a subtle reminder that the corporate world is highly competitive, and that each day brings another chance to win or lose.

Such an environment would suit many companies, but it's particularly fitting for Fila, the Italian sports titan that sells athletic shoes, apparel and other sporting goods worldwide.

When Fila is wooing an athlete to sign up for a promotional campaign, employees line the sides of the atrium to show their support, like fans cheering at a game, explained Michael Ponsi, Fila's director of corporate real estate construction and facilities.

Exhilarating sports imagery is one of many unusual features at Fila's headquarters, which was designed by Shelton, Mindel & Associates of New York and completed in late 1996.

Created inside a former bank headquarters that was constructed in the late 1970s, the Fila building has been selected to receive a 1999 award from the American Institute of Architects for interior design.

The building is the only one in Maryland to be selected this year for a prestigious AIA award, which has gone to such high-profile projects as Oriole Park at Camden Yards and Pleasant View Gardens.

The architecture shows "great style and panache," the judges said in announcing Fila's award. "How wonderful to have a space like this to come to each morning."

Fila (pronounced FEE-lah) occupied space in Hunt Valley's Executive Plaza before buying the former Farm Credit Bank building at 14114 York Road in Sparks and converting it into its U.S. headquarters. The three-level building was designed by Gaudreau Inc., and its atrium was originally as heavily landscaped as a shopping mall's, with ficus trees, brick walls and a goldfish pond.

When Fila took over, company executives asked the architects to transform the building into a "corporate stadium" that mirrors the company's image and celebrates its connection to the sports world.

The designers set the tone with the lobby-tunnel, which uses a stainless steel logo, red lights and large television screens to convey a sports theme. On either side of the front doors, display galleries feature Fila products and the athletes who wear them, including the basketball shoes that Grant Hill wore in the 1996 summer Olympics, and the orange and black cleats that Eddie Murray wore when he hit his 500th home run at Camden Yards.

The sports theme is continued in the atrium with gymnasium-style doors and maple floors.

More than a few nautical references occupy the central space, including aluminum-clad walls angled like the prow of a ship and round windows that resemble portholes.

About 260 people work in the 100,000-square-foot building, which features panoramic views of Baltimore County's rolling countryside. Some of the conference areas simulate retail environments, making them convenient for sales meetings with footwear and apparel representatives.

F. M. Harvey Construction was the general contractor. The design team was headed by Peter Shelton, Lee Mindel and Michael Gray. The AIA honor is the second national design award for the building, which was named "best large office" for 1997 by Interiors magazine. The award will be presented in May during the architects' annual convention in Dallas.

Pub Date: 1/28/99

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