Urban Outfitters, New York

Urban Outfitters is retailing’s chameleon, always blending into its environment with a local-specific store design. Its latest effort in New York follows the city’s roots as the quintessential concrete jungle.
Posted May 31, 2011

One hallmark of Urban Outfitters has been its ability to match its proprietary in-store experience to the store’s specific site, location, architecture and history. The philosophy is that a brand need not be projected in the same manner in every location. There are regional variables that can and ought to be considered.

“A store isn’t merely a place to house goods, but rather a place that impacts people emotionally and intellectually,” says Ron Pompei, ceo and creative director of Pompei A.D. (New York), which has created several concepts for Urban Outfitters. “The spatial experience should be transformative.”

The retailer’s newest store on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue sets its sights on redefining the “concrete jungle.” It evokes a New York state of mind featuring stone, cement, steel and glass, beginning at the front door: A canopy above the entryway, constructed of exposed steel I-beams and corrugated wired glass, with steel channel-framed show windows, projects the company’s brand image, and a strong urban New York message, right onto the avenue.

A cracked glass vestibule was designed to give the immediate impression that this urban space is fun and irreverent, Pompei says. Once inside, the customer is drawn into the core of the store by a repurposed wood aisle below and a conglomeration of crystal vases, goblets, bowls and wine glasses attached to a metal grid above. “Most stores are organized in a Cartesian grid with aisles, straight lines and angles,” says Pompei. “But an ordinary trip to the beach, the woods or a field is organic. Our bodies are meant to meander through a landscape. We naturally want to explore and discover.”

For the Fifth Avenue store, the exploration is through an old city, with many facets, turns and levels. And it’s meant to be a self-guided tour, with the customer navigating through the selling space as she wishes in her own individual way. A turn to the left or right might take the “traveler” up or down a step to another level. Pompei’s overarching philosophy is that the store should be a social venue. So the multilevel floor is meant to increase visibility to other customers or the likelihood of a chance encounter.

“The human experience is multifaceted, so the design approach, led by studio director Gaetane Michaux, was to impact the senses with a broad range of visual stimuli,” Pompei says. Rather than seeking order and regimentation, the store is complex, celebrating diverse materials, textures, patterns and colors, an eclectic mix of found objects and unexpected groupings. Antique showcases are mixed with mirrored cubes as focal points, while PVC tubing is lashed together with nylon cording to form A-frame merchandising fixtures.

The distressed interior provides a transparent look at the inner workings of the building, exposing duct work, structural beams and the underpinnings of the ceiling slab. This look at the structural character of the building is in keeping with Urban Outfitters’ culture of authenticity. No component of the existing structure is hidden; there’s not a single piece of sheet rock in the entire store.

Moving upstairs, a rough-cut open stairwell knifes through the building’s raw steel and concrete structure. Urban Outfitters’ visual merchandising team defined the second floor with industrial references that included old drafting tables used to display folded goods, steam and water pipes fashioned into floor fixtures for hanging merchandise, and a time-worn wooden ladder unfolded to present summer shorts and tops.

Disparate groups of old table and floor lamps are lashed together with bright-orange electrical cording to create decorative lighting fixtures. Random planks of recycled wood flow mellifluously through the space as hanging sculpture. Both are finishing touches that help tie the space together as a work of art on New York’s urban canvas.

Project Suppliers

Retailer: Urban Outfitters, Philadelphia
Design : Pompei A.D., New York
Architect: David A. Levy and Associates, Akron, Ohio
General Contractor: Mackenzie Keck Construction, Rockaway, N.J.
Fixtures: Retail Fixtures, Racine, Wis.
Signage/Graphics: US Sign and Mill Corp., Fort Myers, Fla.