Since its opening in 1907, KaDeWe has always been at the front of product selection, while also setting new standards for customer services. Its unique size - the biggest department store in continental Europe - makes it akin to a city: a three dimensional network of paths, squares, neighborhoods, activities and views unfolding through its large extensions and providing opportunities for commercial, social and cultural encounters. 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.
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.
Our proposal for the transformation of KaDeWe is tactical.
Rather than treating the existing building as a singular mass, the project breaks it into four quadrants, each one with different architectural and commercial qualities, targeted at different audiences: classic, experimental, young, generic. The four department stores under one single roof fragment the original mass into smaller, easily accessible and navigable components - similar to distinct urban sectors embedded into a unifying city fabric.
Each quadrant addresses a different street entrance and is organized around its core void acting both as a main 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.
A cross-shaped organizational system reinforces the presence of quadrants on each commercial floor, regulating the use of the spaces, the general circulation system, the transition between one quadrant and the other, the relationship between brands and curated spaces, while at the same time allowing the injection of unexpected programs, etc ... It operates as infrastructure allowing for multiple conditions and uses.
The original vaulted rooftop becomes a compact glass volume, extending organically from the profile of the existing building. The journey through one of the voids culminates with a final escalator ramp that brings the visitors here for an expansive view of Berlin. The configuration of the new rooftop creates an open-air courtyard between the new architectural insert and the rest of the building. Irregular in shape, the courtyard provides a space for outdoor programs and simultaneously unveils the most exciting and yet most secret spaces of KaDeWe: its food laboratories.
This article originally appeared in oma.com