A Duluth-based retailer consolidates its several offices into an attractive new downtown high-rise that’s big on natural light and harbor views

By John Reinan

For generations, the shore of Lake Superior has been lined with lighthouses showing the way to ships on the Great Lake. Now the skyline of Duluth has a new, bright beacon showing the way to a revival of the city’s core.

The new maurices headquarters, the largest commercial development in Duluth history, is at once bold and humble, modern and timeless. Its designers have transformed sturdy North Shore materials—brick, steel, wood, and glass—into an airy structure that announces itself emphatically, yet with a light touch.

“Because of its size and scale, maurices headquarters is a building with a strong presence both downtown and on the city skyline,” says Terry Helland, AIA, principal and senior project manager at Minneapolis-based RSP Architects, the firm that designed the building’s core and shell. “The form and the facade design are intentionally timeless to fit within the architectural fabric of Duluth.”

maurices got its start in Duluth more than 85 years ago. As the company grew from a local fashion retailer to a national presence with nearly 1,000 stores, it cobbled together an array of office space in several downtown buildings to house its expanding staff.

But the company feared its scattered workforce was costing it opportunities for connectivity and creativity. The new $80 million headquarters, with 11 stories and 180,000 square feet of office space, brings everyone together. The project also incorporates a publicly financed parking garage on floors three through six.

“It has created efficiencies and connections with people on a day-to-day basis,” says maurices associate vice president Laura Sieger. “The thing that keeps coming through is how proud people are. They feel lucky to work here.”

For the interiors, maurices wanted collaboration-friendly spaces, a flexible, work-anywhere feel, and a focus on health and wellness. Key to the design created by Minneapolis-based HGA Architects and Engineers are community gathering spaces throughout the building. On the seventh floor, a large “family room” functions both as a cafeteria and as a casual spot for work and meetings. In summer, workers can step out onto a large deck with views of the lakefront, Canal Park, and the Lift Bridge.

The theme is repeated on a smaller scale on each floor, where the elevator opens onto a “front porch” with a coffee-shop-like feel. Again, it’s a place for maurices associates to connect in intentional and impromptu ways.

The interiors were also designed to serve as a canvas for creative work. The walls are covered in fashion photography and sketches and in clothing hanging from racks and grids. Because the work process and its products are inherently creative and colorful, the HGA team focused on restraint, with muted colors and natural materials.

“They’re in the fashion business, and nothing goes in or out of fashion more quickly than color,” says HGA vice president Rich Bonnin, the lead designer of the interiors. “They have walls and walls of product, things that represent what they do. So it kind of felt like the architecture inside needed to be a little more of a backdrop to that and support their creative work.”

The building boasts a large fitness area, and bike storage in the parking deck. It also includes extensive space for education and training, along with a mock store that designers use to create the displays that will be rolled out in maurices stores nationwide. Light and views arrive from 360 degrees throughout the building, but energy efficiency wasn’t sacrificed; LEED certification is expected soon.

“maurices made a very conscious decision to stay in downtown Duluth,” says Helland. “They could have moved out to the edge, but they made a commitment to be located in the heart of the business district.” It’s a decision that everyone who visits this building will applaud.

Location: Duluth, Minnesota
Clients: maurices; City of Duluth
Architect—core, shell, and public spaces: RSP Architects
RSP principal-in-charge: Terry Helland, AIA
RSP project lead designer: Scott Aspenson, AIA
Architect—office interiors: HGA Architects and Engineers
HGA principal-in-charge: Debra Barnes
HGA lead designer: Rich Bonnin
Energy modeling: Dunham
Structural engineer: Meyer Borgman Johnson
Construction manager: McGough Construction
Size: 450,000 square feet (180,000 for office interiors)
Completion: April 2016
Photographer: Paul Crosby