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April 2016

KaDeWe, a historic century-old mall in Berlin, will undergo a dramatic facelift as architects plan on breaking the mall into four quadrants, each with its own atrium.

The ‘Kaufhaus des Westens’ (KaDeWe) – meaning ‘shopping mall of the West’ – is a mall so famous that even the late English singer David Bowie gave it honorary mention in his 2013 song Where are we Now? reminiscing about his time in Berlin. “A man lost in time near KaDeWe,” sings Bowie. The song is but one example of the impact of this century-old mall. The department store was the ultimate symbol of western luxury in Germany before reunification and was the first place many East Germans wanted to visit after the borders opened.

The store has come a long way since then and the decision has been reached to reinvent itself. Earlier this year Rotterdam based Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) got the approval to renovate the historic mall. OMA, headed by Pritzker Prize winning architect Rem Koolhaas, plans on adding an array of new features, including breaking the mall into four quadrants, each with its own atrium.


Opened in 1907 in Tauentzienstrasse on the edge of Berlin’s west side, by merchant Adolf Jandorf, KaDeWe quickly emerged as the pinnacle of modernism due to its array of products.

“Its evolution reflects Germany’s modern history; from its origins in the early 20th century, through WWII destructions and the subsequent rebirth in the 1950s when it became a symbol of the country’s post war reconstruction and economic success,” says Alex de Jong, Project Architect at OMA.

After being wrecked during WWII and then reopening of its first two floors in 1950, KaDeWe was seen as a symbol of a new beginning. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the store expanded to 60,000 square metres, making it the largest department store in continental Europe and the second largest in Europe – second only to Harrods in London.

For OMA, KaDeWe joins the ranks of other historical European urban department stores such as Galleries Lafayette in Paris, Selfridges in London and laRinascente in Milan. “Historical department stores have been one of the pillars of early modern retail, acting as an incubator for sophisticated crafts, social exchange and challenging experimentation in services,” says OMA.

In order to renovate the project it was imperative for OMA to realise that that the department store was more than just a mall. Coupled with its historical context, the mall is akin to a city, says the firm. It’s a three-dimensional network of paths, squares, 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. “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,” says de Jong.

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