Dutch architecture studio OMA has unveiled its renovation of Berlin’s historical department store Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe), redefining its traditional model.
The firm compared the size of the department store – being the biggest in Europe – to that of a city with its three-dimensional networks of paths, neighbourhoods, activities and views.
“Late 20th century modifications, accelerating global economic shifts and the challenges brought by the digital revolution have turned KaDeWe’s current set up into an obsolete model,” OMA said.
“There is now a need to investigate an alternative to the established retail model – a model able to redefine the relationship of the department store both with its patrons and with its physical and urban environments.”
In turn, the firm’s proposal is tactical, where rather than treating the existing building as a singular mass, the project is broken into four quadrants. These quadrants possess different architectural and commercial qualities, creating four department stores under a single roof.
This approach fragments the original mass into smaller, easily accessible and navigable components much like various urban districts “embedded into a unifying city fabric”.
Each quadrant has a different street entrance and is organised around its core void, acting both as a central atrium and a primary vertical distribution space.
“Through a process closer to the one of curating rather than designing, each void is developed specifically to offer four kinds of distinct spatial experiences and four efficient models of organization. Throughout the nine levels of the building the voids transform in size and extension, avoiding any repetition and making every floor unique: they disappear on the ground floor, morph through the commercial areas, and – in one case only – reach the new rooftop,” the firm explained.
The existing vaulted roof is replaced by a new architecture composed of a glass volume that organically extends from the profile of the existing building. It directly connects to the interior spaces through circular and concentric voids.
“The journey through the void culminates with a final escalator ramp releasing the visitors towards an expansive view of Berlin. Two ad hoc elevators, visible on the façade and acting as attractors, connect the public streets to the new level. The particular configuration of the new rooftop leaves an open air courtyard between the new architectural insert and the rest of the building.
“The resulting irregularly shaped courtyard provides a space for outdoor programs and unveils simultaneously the most exciting and yet most secret spaces of KaDeWe.”
With this project, OMA addresses accelerating shifts in consumer behavior and the challenges brought by online retail that have affected the tradition department store model.
Image courtesy of OMA