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Is this what the department stores' of the future will look like? First part of Berlin's KaDeWe opened by OMA after refurbishment.
Photo: Marco Cappelletti, courtesy of OMA

Berlin’s Kaufhaus des Westens, or KaDeWe for short, is as internationally famous as Selfridges in London, La Rinascente in Milan or the Galeries Lafayette in Paris. With a sales area of 60,000 m² and – in times without a pandemic – around 50,000 visitors a day, the consumer temple is also a tourist attraction. Since its opening in 1907, the building on Tauentzienstrasse has undergone countless renovations, new buildings, extensions and refurbishments. In difficult times for department stores, the crowds of tourists want to be managed and the mass of goods attractively presented. To this end, Rem Koolhaas’ Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) has developed a master plan and a new development concept for KaDeWe in recent years. “Instead of treating the existing building as a single mass,” OMA‘s website says, “the project divides it into four quadrants, each with different architectural and commercial qualities aimed at different target groups: classic, experimental, young, generic. The four department stores under a single roof subdivide the original mass into smaller, easily accessible and accessible components – similar to different urban sectors embedded in a unified urban fabric”. KaDeWe and OMA are thus responding to the changes in consumer behaviour and the challenges that online retailing poses for the traditional department stores’.

Now the first of four “traffic cores” has been opened to simplify access to the building. The cleverly twisted escalator core in the first quadrant stands out clearly from the typical department stores’ escalator with its noble cladding of dark wood. “Each quadrant,” it says, “is aligned with a different street entrance and organised around a central void that serves as both a central atrium and a primary vertical distribution space. Through a process more akin to curating than designing, each void has been specifically developed to provide four different types of spatial experiences and four efficient organisational models. On the nine levels of the building, the interstitial spaces change in size and extent, avoiding any repetition and making each floor unique.” Ellen van Loon, co-leader of the project with Rem Koolhaas, said, according to german-architects, “The renovation of KaDeWe aims to redefine the dynamic between the retail space, its customers and the urban environment (…). The project reinterprets the fundamental elements of a typology that has remained virtually unchanged for more than 100 years.” Conversion and renovation are scheduled to be completely finished in 2023.

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