Urban Outfitters Corporate Campus

DATE: 2006
LOCATION: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
OLD USE: Naval shipyard
NEW USE: Corporate headquarters


The Philadelphia Naval Shipyard National Historic District is comprised of 263 contributing buildings, structures, and objects. It’s history starts in 1872 when the land was established as the Naval Shipyard and used as a major ship construction and repair facility. During the early 20th century, the Yard functioned as one of the nation’s major Marine Corps receiving stations and later served as a training facility.[1] The US Defense Department shut down the facility in 1995.[2]


Urban Outfitters, which sold nearly $2 billion worth of its clothing and apartment wares in 2008, for many years had been spread among six buildings in downtown Philadelphia. The public company, started by Richard Hayne (now chairman and president), now includes five brands and generates more than $1 billion a year.[3]

Minneapolis-based architectural firm Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle was brought onto the project. The firm specializes in historic renovations.

D.I.R.T. studio was hired to transform the landscape around the buildings. The firm is known for turning derelict industrial sites into vibrant public spaces.


To unify the company and streamline communication and workflow, the company began a search in 2004 for a new headquarters. While an office park may be the answer for some companies (though arguably the worst option), it was out of the question for Urban Outfitters who felt it would not match its character and reputation.

Soon after starting the search, the Naval Yard was discovered and deemed a near-perfect fit by Hayne. The company purchased four buildings and leased a fifth. Adapting the buildings and property cost nearly $100 million. The property and its built elements were truly reused. Old paint remained on the walls and ample material was reused—stairs were fashioned from wooden beams, for instance, and windows were removed, reglazed, and reinstalled. In all five buildings, employees work in light-filled interiors with open layouts; very few staff members have an enclosed office. Most of the furnishings are custom-made and contain recycled material (tabletops crafted from salvaged wood, for instance). Amenities such as a gym, yoga studio, dog park, and farmers’ market further add to the lively and informal atmosphere.

All of these gestures to what Hayne calls “a quality of life thing” help Urban Outfitters boost employee satisfaction. Since moving into the new headquarters, employee turnover has dropped to 11 percent, and fewer sick days are being used. “They feel more linked to the community and culture of the company.” The campus has improved his company’s ability to attract new talent. The informal atmosphere is alluring to Millennial-aged employees, who tend to value open, flexible work arrangements more than previous generations of workers. “The campus has improved creative collaboration,” Hayne says, “which ultimately impacts our bottom line.” The company’s revenue in 2008 increased 22 percent over 2007, to a record $1.8 billion, and the retailer opened 49 new stores (it now has nearly 300), including its first garden center, Terrain, near Philadelphia.[4]

[1]Meyer Scherer & Rockcastle, ltd
[2]HQ Magazine
[3]Architectural Record
[4]HQ Magazine

Images courtesy of Lara Swimmer Photography.