A grand opening of the URBN Center, the new home of the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, took place April 12. The event was free and open to the public.
The grand opening was designed to show the progress of the college. Upon entering the lobby, students, faculty, alumni and friends were greeted with complimentary bags and pins. Music students performed in the lobby with music program director Luke Abruzzo while guests browsed student paintings, drawings and photographs or watched graduate student Thom Wall, an award-winning and world record-holding juggler.
Students of the music industry program gave away demos of Motion City Soundtrack, Goldrush, and Brick and Mortar, among others. They also featured their documentary, which was made in collaboration with film students, titled “Making Moves.” The documentary featured all of the produced bands and personal accounts of the music industry and all that comes with it.
A room was set aside to exhibit some of the work of the design & merchandising students as well. The program produces a fashion show and magazine annually and a recording of the June 2012 show played in the background while guests perused the layout of the spring 2013 D&M magazine. A copy of the spring 2012 magazine was also available for guests to compare and keep. The magazine is produced by students who take a class offered in fall and winter terms and features stories pertaining to fashion design, personal identity, Philadelphia lifestyle, and, health and well-being.
The first floor also featured a collection of donated vintage designer clothing, pop-up merchandise shops and a dance performance. D&M students sold their products such as campus-inspired jewelry while dancers from both the Drexel Dance Ensemble and FreshDance, the freshman dance crew, put on an improvised performance. They dressed in costumes designed by D&M freshmen.
D&M students coordinated the dance stations, including the theme and rehearsals. The theme was a reflection of texture, ranging from rough to smooth. There were a total of five dance stations, each of which explored a different theme. Dancers led groups from one location to the next.
On the second floor, Chestnut Street Caterers offered guests a spread of sushi, fortune cookies, flatbreads, fresh fruit, various punches and ciders, cheeses, and seafood. A motion-capture studio and video game lab were also open for the public to explore. On the third floor, guests saw more creations of the D&M students as they explored sewing labs and browsed a collection of dresses.
The fourth floor housed project displays done by architecture and interior design students. Detailed project plans by both were pinned to bulletin boards and included illustrations of buildings, diagrams of systems within the buildings, and impact statements of the building on the surrounding environment. The projects were written by seniors who graduated in 2012.
“When we get to our final year, we get to decide which route we want to go, be it commercial, hospitality or residential design,” Kelsey Talis, a senior interior design major, said. Fellow senior interior design student Rachael Burke added, “Your first fall term is research based, and then you pick an existing building and then you get the plans for the building. … [Y]ou plan your whole project based on the building you choose.”
Students also rehearsed their upcoming performance of “The Grapes of Wrath” and screened an episode of “Off Campus,” the Drexel-produced sitcom. Entertainment and arts management students volunteered as staff for the event, helping visitors as needed.
“We were each stationed at different places throughout the building to show people where to go, make sure they understand each of the majors and give them a general guide of the entire place,” junior EAM student Allie Vanyur said.
The 140,000-square-foot building is located at 3501 Market St. and has been called by the Philadelphia Inquirer “one of Philadelphia’s most thrilling new designs.” Inside the building there is a music recording studio, video game design lab, fabric dyeing and printing studio, fashion research lab, black box theater, radio and television broadcast facility, sewing labs, and typical classrooms.
One hundred percent of the building space is usable. For example, classrooms are made of glass walls that can also be used as dry-erase boards. Exposed steel beams decorate the interior and provide a magnetic surface for students to hang posters or promote projects. Movable walls create study and teaching alcoves that can be arranged for preference. They also serve as bulletin boards so that students with poster board can hang their work before class or while studying. In one room, electrical outlets are hung by cords from the ceiling. Because they aren’t in a wall, students can move outlets across a track that is attached to the ceiling and plug in a device anywhere.
“Coming from Nesbitt to here is a major step into the right direction. It’s interesting to see how they utilize the space, and they’re talking about integrating classes with interior design students and architect students now, which will be beneficial since that’s how it will be working in a firm,” Talis said.
For interior design students specifically, learning in the URBN Center is beneficial because all interior systems are exposed. “You can look around and see the HVAC unit, the cable trays, the sprinklers right in the classroom. When we were in Nesbitt, we had to go somewhere else to do that,” Burke said.
Professor and associate director of interior design Ada Tremonte applauded the energy that the casual environment of the building will bring. “This building has so much more energy [as opposed to Nesbitt]; there’s so much more collaboration. Walking up the stairs you can see all of the different majors and the different projects. Students are going to be more energized, and they may have more creativity,” Tremonte said.
While the building is awe-inspiring and attendees were hopeful of the success it will bring by allowing for easier collaboration, some students claim they will miss Nesbitt, the former home of Westphal.
“I miss Nesbitt still sometimes. Nesbitt, you walk in and everything was so close to you — you knew where everything was, whereas I don’t know where everything is in here because it’s so big. But I do love it,” Zach Blackwood, a junior EAM student, said.
Michael Rodino, a junior in the music industry program, added that the glass windows provide little privacy and may serve as a distraction for students working in studios late at night. Nevertheless, students are excited to have a space to call home that will foster more collective learning.
“It’s cool to have a space that is dedicated to us instead of floating around like nomads,” Blackwood said. “We’ve already had more collaboration because we use the same spaces and can actually see [other students’] work.”
“Having the glass walls physicalized the idea that you can see what everyone is doing, and that encourages us to interact more,” Vanyur added.
Catherine Hamilton, a sophomore in the music industry program, said, “What I really like is that we’re all here. It’s not just music industry — it’s graphic design, it’s game development, it’s everything. This building — just because of how open it is — you have to walk past everything to get to where you need to go. You run into people and meet people in totally different majors that can somehow help you out. It’s a great environment because we’re not so scattered.”
The grand opening certainly demonstrated a collaborative effort that is expected to continue. The URBN Center is open to Westphal students 24/7.