United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) is a leading distributor of natural, organic and specialty foods and related products—and in 2012, was named among Forbes magazine’s Most Admired Companies. With rapid growth exerting pressure on its previous site, UNFI relocated its headquarters to a mixed-use development in Providence, Rhode Island, known as the American Locomotive Company (ALCO). Spanning two historic buildings on the banks of the Woonasquatucket River, UNFI’s 53,000-square-foot office encompasses open work areas, marketing and design studios, executive offices and boardrooms, informal lounge areas, a multi-purpose training room and test kitchen, cafeteria and approximately 20 touchdown spaces. The office houses a total of 310 associates.
The industrial architecture of the ALCO buildings presented both advantages and challenges. Like many older manufacturing facilities, the buildings have skylights and large windows that capture natural light, as well as an expansive interior that lends itself to creating the flexible, open space that UNFI desired. The challenge? How to define and divide space without setting up barriers that would diminish the streams of daylight, obstruct outside views or detract from the appealing character of the exposed brick and steel structural elements.
As UNFI established the criteria for its new headquarters, the company made it clear that creating a healthy, eco-friendly workplace was a key goal. Consequently, the design team installed energy-efficient systems and sought to use environmentally responsible materials wherever possible, including FSC® certified woods and fabrics with recycled content. Teknion supplied almost 100 percent of the furniture for the project, all GREENGUARD certified. The UNFI headquarters is targeting LEED Silver certification, affirming the role of sustainable design in UNFI’s vision.
UNFI also viewed the move itself—and the relocation of 150 employees—as among the challenges of the project. UNFI wanted to be sure that employees experienced the new space as an improvement over the functional and aesthetic aspects of the previous facility—that nothing had been “lost” in the move.