The backstory on Urban Outfitters' corporate headquarters

Thursday, July 16, 2009

In 2007, Urban Outfitters moved their corporate headquarters from Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia to a decommissioned Navy Yard south of the city proper. Part of the interview with Anthropologie's Executive Creative Director touched on the campus, which houses Urban Outfitters, Free People, Anthropologie, the administrative team and (from the sound of it) a few unrelated businesses.

The interview also linked to a Metropolis Mag article about the Naval Yard and Urban Outfitters' subsequent move there. It's full of great anecdotes with an overarching theme that the company tried to preserve as much of the original building infrastructure as possible.

Here's my favorite passage:
As work continued, the preservation issues became less straightforward. The facades of the historic buildings were easy because UO was obligated by government rules to restore their original appearance. But renovating the interiors involved hundreds of minute decisions. It was difficult at first to communicate to the demolition crews that they were serious about preserving the rust and peeling paint. Scherer arrived one day to find them tearing out an elaborately sculpted metal staircase. It was even harder to convince them not to scour off all the old wall paint. In a typical renovation, Scherer explains, the contractors would go in and sandblast everything. “We had to teach the workers that the blasting nozzle was not to remove the paint -- but to paint the column,” he says. “They’d say to us, ‘What are you talking about?’ But finally they got the hang of it.”

For anyone interested in architecture the article is a thoughtful read.