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URBN Center for Westphal College

Rendering of the exterior of Westphal College's new URBN Center

October 24, 2011

Drexel University President John A. Fry has announced that the University will immediately begin renovation of the iconic Robert Venturi building, perhaps the best example of his celebrated “decorated shed,” at 35th and Market Streets. The Drexel Board of Trustees in its September meeting approved the financing package for construction of the URBN Center, which will serve as the new home for the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design.

“I look forward to seeing the transformation of the URBN Center’s space into a vibrant creative learning environment, one that will nurture the talent and ambition of Westphal College’s faculty and students,” said Fry. “This renovation will update the spatial, functional and expressive character of the facility to meet the needs of modern academics, while carefully preserving the building’s historical significance to modern architecture.”

The fast-track construction will have the building ready for use by the 2012-2013 academic year.  The architectural firm MS&R has been retained to adapt the 130,000 square-foot former Institute of Scientific Information (ISI) office building at 35th and Market Streets and the 13,000-square-foot former daycare center at 34th and Filbert Streets—designed by Bower, Lewis & Thrower Architects—to house Westphal College’s design programs. 

“At the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, we boldly re-imagine the world through inspired design, media and the arts,” said Westphal College Dean Allen Sabinson. “Our faculty, distinguished leaders in their fields, challenge students to push the boundaries of creativity to transform the world around us. The new URBN Center will greatly expand our students’ development through state-of-the-art and specialized resources where they'll create amazing new work, experiment, and collaborate across disciplines.”

Drexel’s renovation of the ISI building had already sparked media coverage and spirited debate among leading designers and preservations due to MS&R’s proposed treatment of the east elevation directly above the striking cantilevered entrance. Ultimately, the University decided that the daring idea of exposing the beam supporting the entrance contradicted Robert Venturi’s animating idea of the “decorated shed.”

“The opportunity to own such a remarkable and historic piece of architecture places responsibilities of stewardship on Drexel,” said Fry. “Although MS&R’s ideas for the east elevation pay great respect to Drexel’s mission of teaching and innovation, Drexel’s goal to engage responsibly with the communities in which it thrives dictates that we take special care to weigh the public interest in our actions.”

Drexel purchased the Venturi building in 2009 after a $25 million anonymous donation to fund a design center for Westphal College.

URBN Center Features:

Upon its completion, the URBN Center will open to a large main lobby with a prominent digital media screen, displays of student work, lounges and informal meeting areas, an all-college Hybrid Making Studio—offering student services from across Westphal’s disciplines to clients—and a café.

The main lobby will also spotlight the Music Industry and Design & Merchandising programs.  MAD Dragon Enterprises, Drexel’s student-run record label, will gain office, operations and seminar space accessible from the main lobby. Design & Merchandising (D&M) students will have a highly-visible storefront display window in which to practice the craft, business and design skills of visual merchandising to complement an online D&M store.  

After decades of storage diaspora, Drexel’s Historic Costume Collection will be housed in ideal facilities for conservation, preservation, instruction, storage and display. The light- and humidity-controlled vitrines will provide unprecedented exposure to a changing display of Westphal College’s unique collection for students in the Fashion Design and other programs, and for visitors to the URBN Center. 

The second floor and the second mezzanine will feature a large motion capture studio, compositing lab, gaming research facility and multiple high-end computer studios for animation, modeling and interactive design. These facilities will foster the creativity of both undergraduate and graduate students in Digital Media, Animation & Visual Effects, Game Art & Production and Web Development & Interaction Design.

The new and expanding Product Design program's spaces will include a model-making/prototyping shop complete with tools and space to professionally create anything innovative our students would want to create. Throughout the URBN Center, spaces have been designed to be adaptable and flexible, but nowhere more so than in Product Design where it's expected that each class of students will take ownership of the spaces and redesign the layouts and uses to best suit the challenges of the moment.

The third floor of the URBN Center will not only offer undergraduate and graduate Fashion Design programs expanded reconfigurable studio space, sewing labs and a CAD design studio, it will also feature a fabric dying and printing studio, a state-of-the-art fashion research lab, a SHIMA-SEIKI computerized knit prototyping studio, and a runway for class critiques and informal fashion shows. This will also be the new location of the Charles Evans Fashion Library.

With the move of Westphal’s programs in Architecture and Interiors to the URBN Center, the design studios, drawing studio, CAD labs, printing and plotting facilities, resource library and model making shop will all be located together. Graphic Design students and faculty will enjoy 24-hour access to expanded and upgraded facilities for their computer studios and a large open lab.

The URBN Center Annex, located at 34th and Filbert Streets, will be the home of Westphal College’s public venues including a greatly expanded Leonard Pearlstein Gallery, a black box theater and a 125-seat screening room intended to have the best sound and projection in Philadelphia.

Woven throughout the entire URBN Center will be faculty offices, conference and seminar rooms, extensive pin-up space for critique and sharing of student work, student lounges and flexible “opportunity spaces.”

About the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design:

Drexel’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design offers 16 undergraduate and five graduate programs in media, design and the performing arts. Programs are taught in small studio settings, featuring hands-on learning and an award-winning faculty of industry practitioners who emphasize the use of the latest technologies. Westphal College is home to the Mandell Theater, the Pearlstein Gallery, Drexel’s television (DUTV) and radio (WKDU 91.7 FM) stations, the Rudman Institute for Entertainment Industry Studies, MAD Dragon Records and Drexel’s Historic Costume Collection.  For more information about the College, visit:

Media Contact

Niki Gianakaris